29 year-old Shannon Stafford was a loving mother in the midst of a difficult custody battle when she was shot and killed by her estranged father-in-law, 54 year-old Larry Mitchell, on April 21st, 2012. That morning, Shannon drove to a Wal-Mart located in Morgantown, West Virginia around 9:45am. Larry, who was already in the parking lot when Shannon arrived, approached her car with a 9mm handgun and began to shoot at her. Shannon exited the car to try and escape, but Larry continue to fire shots at her until she collapsed. A large group of witnesses to the brutal event surrounded and held Larry until the authorities arrived on the scene. When they finally arrived, Larry was arrested and Shannon was pronounced dead.
|The scene shortly after Shannon was shot|
On the day Shannon was killed, she was supposed to have her first unsupervised visit with her daughter Faith. Investigators have cited this as the main motive for Shannon’s murder: The Mitchell’s had declared Shannon as an unfit mother and did not want her to have access to Faith. Shannon’s estranged husband, Nathan Mitchell, had primary custody of Faith and was living with her at his parent’s home. Before Shannon filed for divorce, she lived in the Mitchell’s home as well. In fact, Shannon moved into their home early into her relationship with Nathan. Shannon was incredibly happy with this arrangement at first—Nathan treated her well and the Mitchell’s warmly welcomed her into their home. According to family and friends, Shannon had always longed for a “normal and stable” family after growing up in the foster system. When she met Nathan, Shannon felt she had finally found the family she always wanted with him and his parents. The couple got engaged shortly after she moved in.
Unfortunately, the happiness did not last for Shannon. Overtime, Shannon grew frustrated with Nathan’s mother, Sandra Mitchell. Sandra apparently made Shannon do all of their housework and would belittle her when it was not completed to her satisfaction. Rather than defend his fiancé, Nathan would agree his mother and belittle Shannon as well. Additionally, Sandra and Larry monitored Shannon’s every move and isolated her from her siblings and foster parents. They didn’t even allow Shannon to invite them to her wedding—they said they wanted their son to have a small wedding and asked her not to invite any guests.
Although this upset Shannon, she complied because she did not want to jeopardize her relationship with her in-laws. When Shannon got pregnant, Sandra grew irate and claimed that it was too early into the marriage. She blamed Shannon, calling her irresponsible, and kicked her out of the house. Shannon moved back in with her foster family who welcomed her with open arms. Shortly thereafter, Nathan begged for Shannon to come home. He promised they would find their own place and eventually move out of his parents’ home. Shannon moved back in under that condition: that they would find their own place before the baby was born.
Things did not improve for Shannon in the Mitchell household. Despite Nathan’s promises, he eventually told Shannon that he had no intentions of moving out of his parent’s home. Shannon ended up giving birth to her daughter Faith three months early. The Mitchell’s blamed Shannon for the baby’s premature status and heavily controlled Shannon’s interactions with her. When Shannon decided to visit her foster family for a weekend, she was forced to leave Faith behind. During that time, the Mitchell’s decided to not let Shannon back into their home when she returned. After that, Shannon filed for divorce and custody. The Mitchell’s accused Shannon of being an unfit mother to Faith and it was decided that Shannon would get supervised visitations with her daughter while an investigation ensued. As the family court officials in Harrison County did not see any reason why Shannon would be an unfit mother, she was granted unsupervised overnight visitations with Faith. Reeling from this news, Larry conducted a plan to get rid of Shannon for good.
In December 2012, Larry plead guilty to first degree murder in Shannon’s case. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.