Local News

Slain mom's family seeks custody of young daughters

Posted July 17, 2008 6:21 a.m. EDT
Updated July 18, 2008 9:07 a.m. EDT

— The family of a slain Cary mother has been granted temporary custody of her two young daughters after claiming their father is emotionally unstable and poses a threat to the children.

In a petition for custody filed Wednesday, Nancy Cooper's parents and twin sister claim Brad Cooper engaged "in a pattern of emotional abuse" of his wife and children in the months prior to her death and that he threatened to commit suicide last winter.

Wake County District Court granted an emergency custody order for Isabella Cooper, 4½, and her sister Gabriella, known as Katie, who will turn 2 next week.

"Because of the intense scrutiny he is currently facing in the ongoing criminal investigation, there is a substantial risk of bodily injury to the children while in the defendant's custody," the claim states.

The court scheduled a hearing for July 25.

"The decision (to seek custody) was not made with malice or any intent other than to support the children," Nancy Cooper's mother, Donna Rentz, said.

Brad Cooper's attorneys did not return calls Thursday seeking comment.

The document also alludes to marital problems, claiming Brad Cooper was having a sexual relationship with another woman and that Nancy Cooper retained counsel in March to "resolve all pending issues, including child custody, related to her impending separation form the defendant."

Nancy Cooper's family also claims Brad Cooper told his wife that she and their daughters could move back to Canada, but that he took their passports to prevent them from going.

He also refused to provide her and the children with adequate financial support, the petition alleges, and at one point Nancy Cooper was in "such desperate financial situation" that she had to borrow money to purchase groceries and other necessities.

Nancy Cooper, 34, was reported missing Saturday afternoon when she failed to meet up with a friend as planned. Her husband told police she had gone out for a jog in the morning and never returned.

Monday night, a man walking his dog found her body, wearing little clothing, in an undeveloped subdivision less than three miles from her home.

The family's filing says Brad Cooper never reported his wife missing and never contacted them to inform them of her disappearance. They say they do not believe, based on the information they have received, that Nancy Cooper ever went jogging.

Authorities have not said how Nancy Cooper died, and Cary police Chief Pat Bazemore said at a news conference Thursday that investigators still have no suspects or persons of interest in her death.

All parties were cooperating with authorities, she said. But at the request of the Wake County District Attorney's Office, she declined to take questions about the murder investigation.

Bazemore also would not talk about the custody case, saying it is a private, civil-court matter. She did say, however, that any information that comes from it "will be considered by our investigators as we move forward in this case."

Nancy Cooper's family did talk about her, their grief and their hope that her killer would come forward.

"I think it is an act of extreme cowardice to take a life, to rob a family, to rob children of a mother," Cooper's father, Garry Rentz, said. "And I guess what I would say is, if you have a shred of decency, come forward."

In the Lochmere community where Nancy Cooper lived neighbors have placed white ribbons on their mailboxes to honor her memory. Friends have planned a private memorial service on Friday.