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Christina Harms was capable but not self-sufficient.
She graduated from high school and could do many things for herself, friends and family said, but the effects of her fetal alcohol syndrome meant she functioned at a preteen level. She needed someone there to care for her.
But police say it was the very people charged with caring for the 22-year-old Harms who abused her, putting pepper seeds in her eyes, binding her hands, even strapping her, crucifixion style, to a pole in a closet and eventually killing her.
Police arrested three people Sunday, including Cassandra Shepard, Harms' legal guardian, in connection with the abuse and death of the woman.
"It blew me away," said Marilee Nelson, a Minnesota woman who was friends with Harms' family. Shepard "went to school to be a nurse. She was there when Linda [Harms' mother] died and she promised to help take care of her."
"She [Christina Harms] must have been living in hell," Nelson added. "She didn't deserve this."
Officers were called to a possible overdose at a home in the 4900 South block of 5415 West at 3:11 p.m. Friday and found Harms' body, said Unified Police Department spokesman Justin Hoyal. Investigators said Harms had marks on her ankles that were consistent with plastic zip ties. She had bruising on her thigh and head, and police found a pepper seed in her lower eye lid. Harms' arms and hands were completely covered with bandaging material that would have prohibited her from pulling the pepper seed from her eye, police said.
Shepard was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on suspicion of domestic violence murder and domestic violence obstruction of justice. Two other people who lived at the home, Sherrie Lynn Beckering, 50, and Dale Robert Beckering, 52, were booked on suspicion of domestic violence abuse of a vulnerable adult. They are Shepard's mother and step-father, police said.
While executing a search warrant at the home, police found a small closet in the living room that had an alarm on the doorway. Inside the closet investigators found a metal bar used for binding the victim in a crucifixion style, Hoyal said. Several binding materials also were found buried under trash in a waste basket.
The Utah Medical Examiner's Office will determine Harms' cause of death. Hoyal said investigators wouldn't release where Harms' body was found in the home but said it was not in the closet.
Shepard petitioned to become Harms' guardian after Harms' mother died in 2008. Since then, family and friends have raised concerns about Shepard's ability to care for her, but stopped short of legal intervention because of Harms' wishes to remain with Shepard.
"I never cared for her from day one," Harms' father, Ken Harms, said of Shepard.
There were times Ken Harms said his daughter called crying, complaining that Shepard was yelling again.
"It was getting pretty bad then," Ken Harms said by phone from Aberdeen, S.D. "And I've asked her quite a few times if she wanted to come live with me. She didn't want to. She wanted to stay where she was at."
Ken Harms said his daughter had complained to him previously that Shepard had become violent, even striking her with a two-by-four.
Shepard was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence in February 2010, according to South Dakota court records, but the charges were dismissed shortly thereafter.
"It's not shocking to me because I know Cassandra," said John Pitman, her ex-boyfriend.
Pitman, of Portland, Ore., said his daughter, who he had with Cassandra Shepard, was one of the three children police found inside the Kearns home.
The children were taken into the custody of the Department of Child and Family Services, Hoyal said, and there were no signs that any of them had been abused.
But Pitman and others said Cassandra Shepard suffers from bipolar disorder. He said it bothers him that she was given guardianship of Harms because of her mental state.
"She fooled everyone pretty much," Pitman said.
But Adam Shepard called the charges against his sister Cassandra and mother Sherrie Beckering shocking and doesn't think they would commit the crimes they are accused of.
"I wouldn't believe that [they] would be involved in that," he said.
Christina Harms had a 2-year-old daughter who also lived in the Kearns home. Adam Shepard, who lives in Aberdeen, S.D., and was the father of the child, said he dated Harms for about a year. He said she enjoyed playing games on the Internet and listening to music.
Said friend Dawn Knoepfle, "When she smiled and she giggled she had an amazing laugh and an amazing smile. She was very quiet and very nice and very innocent."
In their Kearns neighborhood, next-door neighbor Rob Gaydon said the Beckerings, and a woman he believed to be Shepard, moved into the home two months ago.
Gaydon never saw Christina Harms and was unaware a fourth adult even lived at the home.
Gaydon said the Beckerings kept to themselves. He never heard any arguing or strange noises coming from their home. Gaydon said he saw Cassandra Shepard only once, standing on the back porch. He described the Beckerings as neighborly and nice. He said he spoke to Dale Beckering about two weeks ago.
"We talked about work," Gaydon said. "He was a machinist in Murray. ... They were nice people. This is not what you would expect. It's really strange."