FARMVILLE, Va. — A criminal justice professor and her daughter, who police say were slain by a horrorcore rapper, were in counseling over the teenager's obsession with the macabre music, and the mother took her daughter to the concerts to keep an eye on her, a family friend said Wednesday.
Debra Kelley, 53, an associate professor at Longwood University, was hoping that Emma Niederbrock was just "going through a phase," said James F. Hodgson, a former colleague who had known Emma since she was about 1 year old. He said Kelley took her to horrorcore concerts, which feature artists who rhyme violent lyrics over hip-hop beats, in Michigan and Illinois.
"She's either going to go on her own or I go with her and make sure she's OK," Hodgson, a former police officer and now an associate criminal justice professor at Virginia State University, said of Kelley's reasoning. "She said that she needed to be there for her, and that she was going to grow out of this."
Kelley and Emma were found bludgeoned to death Friday at their Farmville home in central Virginia along with Kelley's estranged husband and Emma's father, the Rev. Mark Niederbrock, 50, and Emma's friend Melanie Wells, 18, of Inwood, W.Va.
Police have charged Emma's boyfriend, Richard "Sammy" McCroskey III, 20, of Castro Valley, Calif., with first-degree murder in Mark Niederbrock's death. McCroskey, who rapped under the name "Syko Sam," is also suspected in the other killings.
McCroskey and Emma, who went by "RagD0LL" online, appear to have met through the underground horrorcore scene. On Sept. 6, McCroskey flew to Virginia so they could attend a music festival together.
Authorities believe the killings occurred shortly after the group returned from the Sept. 12 concert in Southgate, Mich. The girls last logged onto their MySpace accounts Sept. 14. McCroskey was arrested Saturday at the Richmond airport while awaiting a flight back to California.
McCroskey's sister, Sarah, said her brother's friends told her that he and Emma had some kind of falling out at the concert.
Hodgson said Kelley, who specialized in violence against women but has taught classes in homicide, had been struggling since Emma got into horrorcore a couple of years ago. She and her husband separated about a year ago, and all three were in therapy "trying to move through this."
"Clearly, she was very upset with it and didn't necessarily approve of it," he said. "I mean short of locking them in their room or something and putting wires on the windows, I don't necessarily know what you do."
Hodgson said Kelley never mentioned McCroskey, but it was clear Emma was smitten with him. She had been sending McCroskey passionate messages on MySpace about his impending visit.
She was also looking forward to the Michigan festival, but complained in a post that her father, a Presbyterian minister, was coming along on the 16-hour drive.
"talka bout a long ass drive sharin the car with a (expletive) preacher," she wrote. "its gona suck but no doubt is it worth it :D"
Andres Shrim, owner of the horrorcore label Serial Killin Records, said it was not uncommon for parents to accompany their children to these concerts.
"I mean, her father being a pastor, that proves he was a true Christian man," said Shrim, who raps under the name SickTanicK the Soulless about killing Christians. "The Bible says, `Judge not, lest ye be judged.' He knew that this was just entertainment. He may not have agreed with what statements we make, but that made him a good father. Because he was interested in being a part of his daughter's life and the things SHE was interested in."
Hodgson said Kelley had tried to keep tabs on Emma, even installing software on her computer to monitor the Web sites she visited. She had been home-schooling Emma for the past several years because of bullying and discipline issues in middle school, and some of Emma's postings talked about smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol.
Hodgson, who co-wrote a book on sexual violence with Kelley, acknowledged that people might find it strange that someone like Kelley would indulge such a fascination with music that glorifies rape, mutilation and murder. Kelley had been on paid leave this academic year to conduct research and had resigned from the university effective in May, school spokesman Dennis Sercombe said.
Students were shocked when they found that out two weeks before the semester began. Katie Austin, 21, of Portsmouth, said Kelley was a popular teacher who often hosted cookouts for students in Lambda Alpha Epsilon, a criminal justice fraternity Kelley helped form. She would occasionally bring Emma to class.
"I remember instances where she would talk about how she didn't understand some of the things that were going on with teens these days, and she could have been referring to Emma," Austin said.
Hodgson last saw Kelley and Emma about three weeks ago, when he and his daughter were driving through Farmville. He remembered joking with Emma about her pink hair. Like his friend, he hoped horrorcore was something she would get over.
"Back in the day, you grew your hair long and wore bell-bottom jeans and listened to rock 'n roll and who knows what else," he said. "Our parents thought it was the end of the world, and we were acting so damned crazy. But somehow we grew out of some of that and got jobs and moved on with our lives. I mean, some of us did."
Breed reported from Raleigh, N.C.