TAMPA — On the day police say Robert Laird shot his ex-wife, set her body on fire and jumped off the tallest span of the Sunshine Skyway to his death, he visited their 7-year-old daughter's elementary school.
He was asked to leave. School officials declined Wednesday to say why, but Sheryl Laird was scheduled to meet with her daughter's teachers that day, and the divorced couple were known to have problems.
After school, the girl was shuttled to her day care, Happy Days, where she waited until after 6 p.m. Her mom never showed up or called to say she would be late. Finally, teachers called the girl's aunt to pick her up, which she did — just as a Lakeland police car pulled up.
The officer told a teacher that something horrible had happened and that he was going to follow the two home.
By that time, authorities say, both of the child's parents were dead — she of multiple gunshot wounds, he by suicide.
Those close to Sheryl Laird, 39, knew she had a rocky relationship with her ex-husband.
"She was 100 percent afraid of the man," said her friend Doug Streeter.
The couple married in 1998, but divorced in 2006. A year earlier, she had sought an injunction against him.
"He didn't necessarily punch her in the face, but from what I remember, there was some shoving," said her attorney Kim Kaszuba.
Stalking was a problem, too. "He would watch her as she took her daughter to school," Kaszuba said. "He was one of those quiet, mild-mannered small guys that could be very volatile."
In April 2006, Robert, 38, was arrested after she said he threw the unknown contents of his cup on her, burning her face.
According to injunction papers obtained by the Lakeland Ledger, Sheryl Laird said she left her husband because of his drinking problem and temper. She also described possessive and controlling behavior but said Robert did not hit her and did not have a history of mental problems. She said he owned a 9mm pistol and rifles.
Their divorce case was re-opened this fall. She wanted $17,880 he owed her in child support payments. The file shows she was asking for sanctions against him, including but not limited to jail time and a suspension of his driving privileges.
Such consequences are handed out often, Kaszuba said, assuming there is proof the parent who owes money has the means to pay, like a job or a trust fund. Judges can put the parent in jail, or even take away a professional license, until they pay. If there is proof that the parent can't pay, a judge would not ordinarily incarcerate them, she said.
A hearing was scheduled for this Friday.
The file also shows that court papers for Robert Laird were served to the Lakeland home of Sheryl's parents, who live within walking distance of her house.
Friends have said Sheryl Laird's parents allowed him to live at their house because he was homeless, and so that he could be close to their daughter. Robert Laird's former landlord, Nick Montgomery, told the Times the ex-husband had "nowhere to go" after being kicked out of a Brandon house in July 2008.
It is unclear what drove him to violence Monday. But just blocks away, it's clear her life was moving forward.
While working as a graphic artist at the Flyer magazine, she was taking classes to further her career. She had also started a relationship with a co-worker, and was happy enough to tell her friends she could see herself marrying him.
Long before Wednesday's official confirmation of her identity, her loved ones were already grieving her death.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.