By about 6 p.m. Monday, the usually busy playground at Happy Days School in Lakeland had emptied of children, all except for Kelly Laird. The 7-year-old brunette waited in vain for the mother who would never come again.
Sheryl Laird's body was found in the trunk of a car set afire on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge
The child's father, Robert Laird
, had plunged to his death from the span
in what police believe was a murder-suicide.
The child sat alone with an employee at the day care center and waited for her mother, recalled owner Denise Rogers. It was unlike Laird to be late and not to call, so Rogers assumed Laird had gotten into an accident on her commute back from Tampa.
Shortly before 3:15 p.m. Monday, a car stopped at the top of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, officials said.
A man, who was later identified as Robert Laird, got out, doused the car with gasoline and set it on fire.
Then, as Pinellas firefighters worked to extinguish the flames, Laird jumped off the bridge to his death
Only afterward did firefighters make an even more startling discovery - a dead body in the trunk.
Police believe Sheryl was slain at 611 Interlachen Parkway, where she lived with Kelly and where Robert Laird once lived, before the two divorced in Hillsborough County in 2005.
The two were separated in 2005 when a judge granted Sheryl an injunction for protection against domestic violence. Laird was allowed to visit with Kelly, but was to keep his distance from Sheryl.
Despite this, records show Laird was arrested in April 2006 on charges of battery and violating the injunction
And on Monday morning, Laird showed up at Kelly's parent-teacher conference at Philip O'Brien Elementary School.
He was not supposed to be there and was asked to leave, said Wanda Dence, Rogers' mother.
She spoke with Laird Monday morning after the conference.
According to the Tampa Tribune, Laird owed his ex-wife about $18,000 in child support. He had a hearing scheduled for Friday.
In the injunction papers, Laird said she'd 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
. He owned a 9mm pistol and some rifles, she said.
If she was plagued by problems with her ex-husband, Rogers said, Sheryl, who attended Happy Days as a child, didn't seem to show it.
"Even if they didn't get along, she didn't let that rattle his relationship with Kelly," Rogers said.