Patricia Beech – News Democrat
Residents of Adams and Pike Counties were left shaken Friday when news of a horrifying mass murder shattered the notion “that things like that don’t happen here”.
The “execution-style” killings that left eight members of the Rhoden family dead across four homes in Pike County grabbed headlines around the world as the national press descended into the village of Piketon.
According to Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader, seven adults and a 16-year-old boy were shot in the head at four different crime scenes. Attorney General Mike DeWine said most of the victims were found in their beds. DeWine and Reader identified the victims as Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37; Christopher Rhoden Jr. 16; Hanna Rhoden, 19; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Hannah Gilley, 20; Gary Rhoden, 38; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44.
Benjamin Suver of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) said that the two crime scenes on the 4000 block of Union Hill Road are within walking distance of each other, while the third residence is more than a mile away, and the fourth, located on Left Fork Road is a 15-minute drive away.
In a Sunday press conference DeWine called the killings a “pre-planned execution”, and said he believed more than one shooter was responsible. “It was a sophisticated operation, and those who carried it out tried to do everything they could to hinder the investigation and their prosecution.”
Sheriff Reader responding to concerns about public safety said it was evident the family was targeted. “I cautioned them, and I told them to be armed,” he said, “I can tell you, if you are fearful, arm yourself, if you feel you need to protect yourself or your family, do so, and contact the local law enforcement.”
Responding to complaints about the lack of information being shared with the press, DeWine asked for patience, “We will not be telegraphing or telling the bad guys everything that we know, I do not intend to give out one piece of information that will endanger the prosecution of this case,” he said, “It is in the interest of the people of the state of Ohio that we find this murderer or murderers as quick as we can.”
“We will not have a second chance,” Sheriff Reader said, “we have to do it once, and we have to do it right.”
Eighteen items have been sent to the BCI crime lab to analyze DNA evidence. DeWine said that investigators had received over 100 tips, conducted over 50 interviews with more on-going, and executed five search warrants for the four crime scenes. He would not comment on the fifth location.
Although marijuana “grow operations” were discovered at three of the crime scenes, investigators won’t comment on whether the shootings were drug related. However, Sheriff Reader noted that while the Rhoden family is well known in the area, during his twenty years in local law enforcement he said he’d had no criminal dealings with the family.
DeWine told WLW’s Bill Cunningham that there were also fighting roosters on the site, but wouldn’t say whether he believed any family members were actively involved in illegal cock fighting.
The 911 calls released by the Attorney Generals office Saturday provided a glimpse into the horrifying scene discovered by Dana Rhoden’s sister at 4077 Union Hill Road. Frantic and distraught as she describes the scene, “I think my brother-in-law is dead,” she told the 911 dispatcher, “There’s blood all over the house.” She identified the two victims as Chris and Gary Rhoden. “My brother-in-law (Chris Rhoden) is in the bedroom and it looks like someone beat the hell out of him,” she said, “I think their both dead. The door was locked when I got here, but I knew where the key was at, so I went in and they were laying on the floor.”
Sheriff Reader said the five other victims were found in their beds in neighboring homes, including a mother who lay next to her 4-day old baby, who was unharmed. Two other small children, a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old also survived the slaughter.
A second 911 call later in the day alerted authorities that an eighth victim had been found on Left Fork Road in Scioto County. The caller, Donald Stone, told the dispatcher, “All the stuff that’s on the news, I just found my cousin with a gunshot wound. I just went in hollering at him to check if he was all right, I looked up at him and he had a gunshot wound.” Stone identified his cousin as Kenneth Rhoden. When the dispatcher asked if he were alive, Stone replied, “No, no.”
At a press conference on Friday, DeWine noted there was no indication that any of the victim’s committed suicide, and that investigators believed the Rhoden family had been specifically targeted.
The bodies of all eight victims were transferred to the Hamilton County Coroner’s office. According to the Attorney General’s Office, autopsies were completed Monday.
Kimberly Newman, a Victim’s Advocate for the Adams County Prosecutors Office delivered a statement from the family on Saturday. “The Rhoden family would like to thank everyone for all the outpouring of prayers and support for their family. They ask that you continue to keep them in your prayers. They would like to thank all law enforcement from Pike County and all surrounding counties for their immediate response, especially to Sheriff Charlie Reader for all his hard work. They ask that everyone be respectful of their loss at this time,” Newman said, “They also have a plea to anyone who has any information in this matter to call 1-855-BCI-OHIO.”
Cincinnati restaurateur Jeff Ruby offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who aids in the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the slayings.
Investigators Sunday expanded their search for evidence around the four homes. According to Sheriff Reader, STAR (Special Tactical and Response) Teams from the ODRC (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections) were scouring the wooded areas around the crime scenes, “They’re going to make sure that absolutely nothing of value in the woods is missed, if something is located they will secure it and contact an agent with BCI.”
Calling the investigation the largest ever held in Pike-County, Reader said, “We are working around the clock, twenty-four hours a day, we are working on every lead that comes in, but this is going to be a very lengthy process.”
The investigation is “focused” and “methodical,” DeWine said. “It will go wherever the facts take us.”
The murders were especially disturbing for residents accustomed to living in a low crime area. Several residents expressed shock at the brutality of the crimes.
“Our community is heartbroken and shocked wondering how could this possibly happen to us?’” said Phil Fulton, Pastor of Union Hill Church.
Fulton described the Rhoden family as close-knit and hardworking. He said the family had been part of his congregation, and that a team of Victim Advocates was at the church to help the family with whatever they needed.
“Dana was a very hardworking lady — loved her kids, loved her family,” Fulton said. “Very outgoing — just happy-go-lucky.”
Robin Waddell, owner of Big Bear Lake Resort in Lucasville said that Chris Rhoden Sr. had worked for him often over the past twenty years. “We hired him for different projects, and we kept bringing him back because he was reliable and efficient,” said Waddell, ” How do you even begin to comprehend something like this.”
Matthew Smith, Administrator of the Hillside Nursing Home where Dana Rhodin worked said, “Our deepest sympathies go out to Dana’s family, she was a kind and caring STNA. What happened is just tragic.”
A fund for the Rhoden family at First State Bank in Peebles.
Anyone with information on this case is asked to call 1-855-BCI-OHIO (224-6446)or the Pike County Sheriff’s Office at 740-947-2111.