Residents of this rural Appalachian community spent Saturday in a state of shock and fear after the execution-style killings of eight people, as law enforcement continued its investigation for a motive and the person or persons who committed the slayings.
Piketon, a town of just over 2,000 residents 90 miles east of Cincinnati, has been filled with state, county and local safety forces after eight members of one family were each shot in the head and killed — including a mother next to her four-day-old baby who was spared — prompting the Pike County sheriff to warn residents “to lock their doors and stay alert.”
“I’m scared, because they haven’t caught them yet,” said resident Vanessa Mullins.
“They annihilated a whole family,” she said as she stopped to talk with a friend in the parking lot of the Piketon Dollar General.
Authorities confirmed Saturday all eight victims were members of the Rhoden family:
• Hannah Gilley, 20
• Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40
• Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16
• Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20
• Dana Rhoden, 37
• Gary Rhoden, 38
• Hanna Rhoden, 19
• Kenneth Rhoden, 44
Officials said the victims, found at four separate homes, were shot in the head. Three children, including a 4-day-old infant, were spared.
Authorities urged surviving members of the Rhoden family to take precautions and offered them help.
They also recommended area residents be wary as no suspect or suspects have been apprehended.
Cody Grooms and Megan Throckmorton manned the register Saturday inside Gary’s Discount Outlet, a flea-market style store in Piketon.
The couple commutes to Piketon from a town 45 minutes south, and like so many others, Throckmorton admitted she was scared.
“You don’t know where this person — or people — are,” she said. “That’s worrisome in itself.”
However, Dayton-area psychologist Dr. Michael Williams said the apprehension of those involved may not bring relief to residents.
If the killer or killers live nearby, “that would be even doubly painful for (residents) I’m sure,” he told this news outlet.
“This was a very targeted, deliberate, intentional thing. The execution nature of the killings was also just as calculated and cold-hearted,” Williams said. “And if it is someone from within the community that has done it, I think people are going to have to question how well they really know people that they thought they knew.”
The 911 calls placed to the Pike County Sheriff’s Office on Friday paint a horrific picture of family members discovering the gruesome scenes at two of the four homes.
“There’s blood all over the house,” a woman, gasping for breath, tells the dispatcher in the initial frantic call just after 7:45 a.m. Friday.
The woman tells the dispatcher she had come to the home at 4077 Union Mill Road to feed her brother-in-law’s dog and chickens. Instead, she “found them all dead,” referring to her brother-in-law and cousin.
“I think they are both dead,” she said between sobs.
A second 911 call came at about 1:30 p.m. when a man who identified himself as Donald Stone said he found his cousin with a gunshot wound in a home a few miles away.
“All that stuff that’s on the news, I just found my cousin with a gunshot wound,” he said.
Stone begins to give directions to the dispatcher, a reminder of what life can be like in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
“He doesn’t have a (mail)box,” he tells the dispatcher, giving her a description of what the home is close to instead of a house number.
In a prepared statement, the Rhoden family asked “that everyone be respectful of their family of their loss at this time.”
“They also have a plea for anyone who has anyone information in this matter” to call state authorities.
Investigators will process and analyze evidence collected from all four crime scenes through the weekend, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office.
The bodies of the victims have been transferred to the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office. At the request of the Pike County coroner, the same pathologist will perform all of the autopsies.
Due to the number of victims, the process is expected to last through the weekend, according to the attorney general’s office.
Police detained a “person of interest” in Chillicothe late Friday for questioning, but DeWine said the person was one of 30 people interviewed in connection with the case, some of whom were from Chillicothe, located about 40 miles northeast of the crime scenes.
Investigators were following up what they described as an “overwhelming” amount of tips.
Cincinnati-area restaurant owner Jeff Ruby has offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers.
In their brief statement Saturday, the Rhoden family also asked the community to keep them in their prayers.
On Sunday, as some families head to one of the nearly dozen churches in Piketon, religion can help begin the healing process, Williams said.
“… their faith base — whatever that is and in terms of whatever denomination or persuasion that they tend to believe — is going to be a very important part of (healing),” Williams said. “Because that’s the thing that helps us deal with the otherwise …. unfathomable things — helps us manage those things that are unmanageable.”
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