Custody battle referenced abuse before triple murder

Emma McComber was shot and killed before a fire at the Dorr Township mobile home where she lived.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One day after William McComber’s daughter was found dead, the devastated dad told reporters he had warned authorities that 12-year-old Emma was in danger. Court records Target 8 examined Friday back up that claim.

Emma, her half-brother Corey LaValley Jr. and her mother Deb Sheppard were each shot and killed early this week before their Dorr Township mobile home was set on fire. Sheppard’s ex-boyfriend — also Corey’s father — now faces murder and arson charges.

Emma and Corey shared a mother, but had different fathers. Her father is Sheppard’s ex-husband, McComber.

The file that documents McComber and Sheppard’s divorce also details the couple’s heated custody battle over Emma. In a 2009 custody motion, McComber wrote that his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, Corey LaValley Sr., was “abusive” to Emma.

“(My ex-wife) and her boyfriend have been evicted from homes due to his temper, violent behavior, and his threatening to kill the children, including Emma,” McComber wrote in the documents filed Oct. 9, 2009.

“The boyfriend is currently not allowed in the home where Ms. Shepard and the children reside with Ms. Shepards mother,” the motion continued. “He does stay there when Ms. Shepard’s mother is not home, and he has access to Emma.”

In February, 2010, McComber tried again, writing in another motion that his ex-wife had “continued in a relationship with an abusive boyfriend.”

He went on to write, “I am afraid for my Emma’s safety.”

But McComber never gained custody of Emma.

The 12-year-old’s mom fought back in a three-page response to McComber’s custody motion. Sheppard pointed to McComber’s own arrest for assault in 2003. Michigan State Police records show that McComber ultimately pleaded guilty in that case to carrying a concealed weapon.

Sheppard also pointed out that McComber’s new wife, Kari, had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor attempted fourth-degree child abuse in 2005 for hitting Emma with a plastic comb after the then-toddler had several potty training accidents. According to the police report, Kari told police that she “knew what she had done was wrong and she was very sorry for what had happened.”

Sheppard went on to write that McComber had only seen Emma three times in the four years since the incident with Kari.

Earlier this week, McComber told 24 Hour News 8 that he last saw his daughter in November.

The Office of Children’s Ombudsmen, the watchdog agency that investigates Child Protective Services, is looking into this case. It will examine whether CPS caseworkers followed policy in their dealings with Emma’s family, and whether the state should have — or could have — done more to intervene before the deaths.

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