Authorities running down ‘every tip’ in Pike County shooting

Rhoden family patriarch defiant, frustrated days after 8 killed in their homes

“I got my gun,” he said. “Maybe they kill me, maybe they don’t.

“I got to come up with $30,000 to bury them all.”

Manley’s frustration was echoed across Pike County on Monday, as law enforcement agents searched for suspects but said little about why eight members of the same family were found slaughtered Friday — some still in their beds — at four different homes in this remote area of southern Ohio.

Among the deceased were Manley’s daughter Dana Rhoden; her ex-husband Christopher Rhoden Sr.; and their children Hanna Rhoden, Christopher Rhoden Jr. and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden. Also killed were Chris Rhoden Sr.’s brother Kenneth Rhoden and cousin Gary Rhoden, as well as Clarence Rhoden’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley.

Spared were three children, ages 3, 6 months and 4 days.

Authorities have released few details about any suspects or a motive. They have said that there is no reason to believe there’s a risk to the general public, but that members of the Rhoden family should arm themselves or contact the Pike County Sheriff’s Office for protection.

Killers on loose

“Killers have clearly targeted a family. If I was a member of that family, I would be very careful,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Monday during an interview with this newspaper. “We do have a killer or killers who are loose. We do not know whether they are still in the vicinity, whether they’re in Pike County or where they are.”

Cincinnati restaurateur Jeff Ruby announced a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

“If this money translates into the capture and conviction of the animals that slaughtered eight members of one family it will be the best money I’ve ever spent,” he said.

DeWine urged people to call 1-855-BCI-OHIO with information.

“Clearly there are people who know more about this and they need to go forward,” he said.

Meanwhile, dozens of state and local law enforcement officials chased numerous leads. DeWine said he had up to 40 agents working on the case, in addition to local law enforcement. The FBI and every county sheriff in Ohio offered assistance.

The Rhoden Memorial Fund was set up at Fifth Third Bank to benefit the family.

Pot, cockfighting

Further details emerged Monday about the scenes of the murders. DeWine noted evidence of cockfighting at one of the locations, and that three of the four scenes contained marijuana grow operations.

“This would appear to be a commercial operation, as opposed to someone growing it in their backyard or growing it in their window or something for their own use,” he said.

Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk told The Columbus Dispatch that there were several hundred plants, and one of the three operations was set up indoors.

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said in a press conference Sunday that he works in a small community and knows the family, but “I have never been involved with that family in a criminal nature and I’ve been in law enforcement locally for 20 years.”

Manley said Monday that his family has enjoyed a good reputation in Piketon and nearby Peebles.

“Ask anybody in Peebles, go on to Peebles and ask anybody,” he said.

Cartels active

None of the eight victims have any drug-related convictions listed in Pike County court records.

But marijuana is big business in Pike County.

There were 551 plants seized in the county last year in Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation eradication efforts. That places it third in total volume in the southeast Ohio region, according to numbers voluntarily reported by counties to the attorney general’s office.

In 2010, state officials announced the seizure of 22,000 marijuana plants in the village of Latham — 15 miles west of Piketon — and said they suspected a connection to Mexican drug cartels. In 2012, DeWine’s office found 1,200 pot plants at an abandoned camp in Pike County that officials said had indications it was connected to Mexican cartels.

DeWine would not comment Monday on whether the Piketon massacre appeared to be cartel-related.

“We certainly would not rule that out, but we’re not going to say that is true,” he said. “We are frankly taking every tip, every lead, every shred of information and trying to run it down.

“We don’t have an over-arching theory of what happened. My experience in law enforcement is you’re better off not having that and just following the facts.”

‘Everybody is scared’

That lack of answers, however, has left this small community on edge.

“Once people find out what happened, people might breathe easier,” said Vanetta Throckmorton, 50, as she worked Monday at the Smart Mart in Piketon. “Everybody is scared.”

Throckmorton said her son knew Hannah Gilley, and “she was a real good kid. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Tim Hughes, 52, said people are going about their daily lives, but with a cloud over the town.

“It’s going to be something in the back of everybody’s mind for a long time,” he said. “People will be looking over their shoulders awhile before they bring these guys to justice.”

Michael Williams, a Dayton clinical psychologist, said based on what information has been released — the sophistication of the attacks, the fact that young children were spared — may give clues to the motives of the killers.

“I think they are probably some seasoned criminals who have a clear method of what they do and probably … in line with the old Godfather movies,” he said. “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

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