The Washington Post

Trial begins for mother accused of killing teenage, 5-year-old daughters

Mortally wounded Va. teen told 911 operator mom had shot her


When Jennifer Heflin answered a 911 call on Aug. 5, 2018, she heard the voice of a 15-yearold girl begging for help and moaning in anguish.

“I don’t want to die,” the teenager wailed.

Heflin, an emergency dispatcher, asked her who shot her. The teenager cried: “My mom.”

More than four years later, Heflin took the witness stand in the Fairfax County courthouse, describing the call as part of prosecutor­s’ bid to convince jurors that the teenager’s mom, Veronica Youngblood, should be convicted of first-degree murder in the killings of her daughters: 15-year-old Sharon Castro and 5-year-old Brooklynn Youngblood. Youngblood has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Heflin listened to the recording in which she told the 15-yearold that help was coming. Police soon arrived at the apartment at 1519 Lincoln Circle, where they found Sharon wounded from a gunshot to the chest. They transporte­d her to the hospital, where she later died. First responders testified they also found Brooklynn dead at the scene from a gunshot to the head.

As Heflin testified, Veronica Youngblood burst into tears. She asked to be excused while the 911 audio played, leaving the courtroom as the trial carried on. The way prosecutor­s tell it, Youngblood, 37, methodical­ly plotted to kill her daughters. Fairfax County Assistant Commonweal­th’s Attorney Kelsey Gill said in an opening statement that Youngblood went to a local gun show nine days before the slayings, buying a handgun with the “express purpose” of killing her kids.

The day before the fatal shootings, Sharon asked her mother whether she was planning to kill her and her sister, Gill said. The prosecutor said Youngblood had given the girls sleeping pill gummies before shooting them.

Sharon woke up screaming, asking Youngblood why she shot her in the back, Gill said. She said the mother answered that she was “going to take her to meet God,” shot her once more in the chest and fled the apartment. Officials arrested Youngblood later that night.

But Andrew Elders, a public defender representi­ng Young

blood, said in his opening statement it was impossible for the Mclean, Va., mother to be guilty when a lifetime of trauma “warped her mind.” Elders said Youngblood, who is from Argentina, was a victim of physical and sexual abuse by family members. Youngblood became pregnant with Sharon at age 16 and went into sex work to provide for her family, he said.

“Every day, to make a living for her family, she was reliving the worst traumas of her young life,” Elders said. “Reliving her child sexual abuse. Reliving a history of violence at the hands of older and more powerful men.”

Elders said evidence shows it was through her sex work that Youngblood met her former husband, Ron Youngblood, who was stationed in Argentina while in the Navy. The couple married in 2009, and had their daughter, Brooklynn, in 2012.

The two had a tumultuous relationsh­ip. While Ron Youngblood was stationed in Honduras in 2014, Elders said, Veronica Youngblood called the local police saying her husband became physically abusive. Elders described the husband as controllin­g, particular­ly after he learned his wife had an affair.

“In Honduras, things got really bad,” Elders said, alleging that Youngblood’s husband “denied her access to transporta­tion, to money, to the internet.”

Through a representa­tive, Ron Youngblood declined to comment.

Ron Youngblood was transferre­d to the Navy’s offices in D.C. after returning to the United States from Honduras, and the couple moved to Virginia, attorneys said at trial. They had a protracted divorce, which was finalized in 2016. As part of their custody arrangemen­t, Veronica Youngblood agreed that the family would move in 2018 to Missouri, where Ron Youngblood’s family lived. Gill and Elders said Veronica Youngblood later decided she wanted to stay with her daughters in Virginia, but a Fairfax County judge rejected the idea. The killings happened two days before the family was scheduled to move, Gill said.

Elders said Veronica Youngblood was at the mercy of a “cruel and violent man” who did not love her, leading her to lose control. Gill said Veronica Youngblood was not insane, but selfish.

“Veronica took the anger that she had towards the men in her life, and she channeled that anger,” Gill said, “She channeled that anger into the chamber of a Glock, and she used that Glock to kill her children.”

In the first days of the trial last week, jurors listened to testimony from emergency responders who arrived at the scene. Ryan Fisher, who was a patrol officer at the time, testified that he tried to save Sharon’s life. He said Sharon told him that she was a 10th-grade student at Oakton High School whose favorite class was English.

Jurors also heard testimony from Manuel Leiva, a local defense attorney who said he casually dated Veronica Youngblood the summer that the killings occurred. Leiva said that when they first met, Veronica Youngblood seemed put together and laid back.

By the end of July, things had changed. Veronica Youngblood confided to him that she had been fired from her nursing job, he said. Veronica Youngblood also said she was looking for a more serious relationsh­ip, which he was not ready for, he said. Leiva said they decided to end their romantic relationsh­ip, but Veronica Youngblood sent him a text message a few days later claiming that she was pregnant with his child.

Leiva came to her apartment July 31 to discuss the pregnancy, he testified. But when he arrived, all the lights were off and candles were placed inside the apartment, he said. Leiva ultimately left after feeling unsafe and wary that Veronica Youngblood was being untruthful, he said. His attorney sent Veronica Youngblood a letter instructin­g her not to contact Leiva.

The next time Leiva saw Veronica Youngblood was Aug. 5 at his front porch in Leesburg, Va. He said she was calm and stonefaced, asking to come inside. He did not open the door and asked her to leave, telling her he did not want to call the police. She told him to call them anyway because they were already looking for her.

“I asked her ‘Why are they looking for you?’ ” Leiva testified. “And that’s what she said: ‘Because I killed my daughters.’ ”

She pulled out a handgun from her waistband, explaining why she did it, and Leiva dialed 911.

 ?? FAIRFAX County SHERIFF ?? Veronica Youngblood
FAIRFAX County SHERIFF Veronica Youngblood

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