April 23, 2016 - 9:39 AM
PIKETON, Ohio - A day after eight members of one family were found dead with gunshots to the head at four properties in rural southern Ohio, authorities on Saturday, April 23, continued the scramble to determine who targeted that clan and why.
Investigators said they've interviewed more than 30 people hoping to find leads in the deaths of the seven adults and 16-year-old boy whose bodies were found Friday at homes southwest of Piketon.
All were shot in the head, authorities said, and it appeared some were killed as they slept, including a mother in bed with her 4-day-old baby nearby. The newborn and two other small children were not hurt.
Authorities said all the victims were members of the Rhoden family, but they declined to provide any more information about them.
Investigators said that none of the deaths appeared self-inflicted and that they believed at least one assailant remained at large, considered armed and dangerous. Investigators were following up what they described as an "overwhelming" amount of tips, but no one had been arrested.
Authorities urged surviving members of the Rhoden family to take precautions and offered help, and they recommended that area residents also be wary.
The exact timing of the shootings remained unclear. Authorities first got word in an emergency call shortly before 8 a.m. Friday from someone reporting blood in a home with two males possibly dead, and responding deputies were flagged down about more victims at two others homes, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said.
Two of the crime scenes are within walking distance of each other along a sparsely populated, winding road that leads into wooded hills from a rural highway. The third residence is more than a mile away, and the fourth home, where a man's body was found later Friday, is on a different road, at least a 10-minute drive away, said the investigation's leader, Benjamin Suver, a special agent in charge with BCI.
Investigators blocked off wide areas around the crime scenes, but aerial photos showed law enforcement vehicles parked outside the properties. One scene appeared to have a trailer home and several others buildings a short walk apart, with a school bus and numerous other vehicles parked in the grass around the property. Another had a home surrounded by trees, with a red garage or barn nearby.
Reader and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said they met with over 100 relatives and friends of the family at a church Friday to share what was known and field questions.
They said work by DeWine's employees from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to process the crime scenes and collect evidence was expected to stretch into Saturday. The FBI in Cincinnati said it was monitoring the case and offered assistance if needed.
Authorities refused to discuss details about the crime scenes, such as the type or number of weapons used, what evidence was found and whether anything appeared to be missing from the homes.
They didn't identify the dead by name but confirmed all victims were members of the Rhoden family. The owner of at least two of the properties is listed as Christopher Rhoden, according to Pike County auditor's records.
Reader said he knew the family but declined to say why or how, saying he wanted to be respectful of the grieving family.
Gov. John Kasich, campaigning in Connecticut for his Republican presidential bid, said his office was monitoring the investigation, and he vowed that whoever's responsible will be brought to justice.
The shooting left some people on edge in and around Pike County, an economically distressed area that's home to about 28,000 people and a shuttered Cold War-era uranium plant whose cleanup provides hundreds of local jobs.
Still, many people went about their business Friday night, grocery shopping or eating out or sipping drinks on their front porches. At the small Pike County Dogwood Festival in Piketon, roughly 10 miles from the crime scenes, families with children in balloon hats walked among crafters and rides, slurping lemon shakes and snack-stand foods.
Longtime resident Harold Kunkle, 81, said attendance seemed much lower than anticipated, and he attributed that to news of the shootings.
"Everybody's nervous, not knowing what to expect," he said.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016