PIKE COUNTY, Ohio – The Rev. Phil Fulton knew some of the eight family members who were shot dead near his rural southern Ohio community this week. The victims’ shaken relatives, he says, are asking roughly the same question as police: Who would do this?
“Just heartache,” Fulton said Saturday, describing the relatives’ reactions a day after police said seven adults and a 16-year-old were found shot in the head “execution-style,” most while they slept, in Pike County.
“You try to think (about) the whys and who, and no one has any idea why this would take place,” said Fulton, pastor of Union Hill Church, which some of the victims had attended, in neighboring Adams County.
The eight members of Rhoden family — including a mother who investigators say was killed while her 4-day-old child lay beside her — were found dead Friday at four crime scenes, authorities said. The newborn, along with a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old, survived.
On Saturday afternoon, authorities released the identities of the people who were killed. They are:
Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Dana Rhoden, 37; Gary Rhoden, 38; Hanna Rhoden, 19; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44.
The mystery of who killed the eight has not only moved people living in the area of Piketon, a town of about 2,000 residents 90 miles east of Cincinnati, but also drawn the attention of top state officials.
A Cincinnati-based restaurant owner, Jeff Ruby, has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Saturday.
Officers are searching for the killer or killers, who are probably armed and a danger to surviving family members, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said Friday.
“We have a specific family that’s been targeted but I don’t think there’s been a threat to any other members of the community,” he said. “I’ve given the family precautionary measures to make. They know we’re available.”
Reader didn’t name a suspect or give a motive.
Eight victims at four crime scenes
The sheriff’s office was notified Friday morning that two bodies were found inside a residence, Reader said.
According to 911 recordings obtained by CNN, a female relative told a dispatcher, “There is blood all over the house. My brother-in-law is in the bedroom, there is blood all over the front room.”
A few moments later, the caller says there are two people in the residence and “They both look dead.”
“You think there both dead?” the dispatcher said.
“Yes, looks like someone beat the crap out of them,” the caller said.
“Is there anyone else in the house?”
“Not that I know of. The door was locked when I got here. I know where the key was at, I went in and seen them on the floor.”
“I need you to get out of the house,” the dispatcher said.
Officers were flagged down and told other bodies had been located.
At first, officers found seven people killed at three residences in the county, two “within walking distance” of each other and the third about half a mile away, Reader said.
An eighth body was located in a fourth residence, about 8 miles away, Reader said.
A man called 911 in the early afternoon to say he’d “just found my cousin with a gunshot wound.”
“Is he alive?” the dispatcher said.
“No,” the caller replied.
Relatives of the eight released a statement Saturday through the Ohio Crisis Response Team, a volunteer organization that advocates for victims of traumatic events.
“The Rhoden family would like to thank everyone for all the outpouring of prayers and support their family,” the statement reads. “They ask that you continue to keep them in their prayers.”
‘There may be more than one’ killer
DeWine said this week that it appeared all of the eight were shot in the head.
“It would appear it occurred at night. … The mother was killed in bed with the 4-day-old right there,” he said Friday.
Reader said other law enforcement agencies have come to Pike County to help his department, which has 13 road deputies.
“We have a lot of people dedicated to finding this murderer, or these murderers,” DeWine said.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is leading the investigation. Work at the crime scenes has been completed, according to a statement issued by Reader and DeWine on Saturday.
“The bodies of the victims have been transferred to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office,” the statement said. “At the request of the Pike County coroner, the same pathologist will perform all of the autopsies,” “Due to the number of victims, this process is expected to last through the weekend.”
Father and son remembered
Robin Waddell, the owner of the Big Bear Lake Family Resort in Lucasville, Ohio, said Chris Rhoden Sr. and his son Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, worked for him several years in a seasonal capacity building docks, repairing fences and performing other carpentry-related jobs.
Waddell said Chris Rhoden was “a fantastic and talented contractor” and his son was “a really good kid.”
Waddell said he was familiar with many members of the Rhoden family and saw no outward signs of problems or issues that could explain this tragedy.