The extended family murdered in their sleep appeared to have marijuana “grow operations” in three of the four Ohio homes where they were found dead, officials said.
In what authorities have called a “pre-planned execution,” seven members of the Rhoden family, as well as the fiancée of one of the relatives, were shot in the head while they slept in four Union Hill Road houses in Piketon on Friday. Police are still looking for the killer or killers.
Investigators would not say whether they thought the killings were drug-related but said they are investigating the surrounding woods for further evidence of drug production by the Rhoden family.
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said that he had been an officer in the area for 20 years and that the Rhoden family members were not known to be criminals.
“I’m a member of that community, it’s very emotional to find out that eight people in your community have been murdered,” Reader told reporters.
The eight victims have been identified as Christopher Rhoden, Sr., 40; his 16-year-old son, Christopher Rhoden, Jr.; 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; 38-year-old Gary Rhoden; 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden; 20-year-old Clarence 'Frankie' Rhoden; and his fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley.
Among the victims was a mother who had her 4-day-old infant lying beside her, authorities said. The newborn, as well as a 6-month-old and 3-year-old child, survived, police said.
“This is not your case where someone’s got mad at someone and shot them,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told reporters. “It was a sophisticated operation. And those who carried it out were trying to do everything that they could do to hinder the investigation and their prosecution.”
In a 911 call following the shootings, a frantic-sounding woman told the dispatcher: “I think my brother-in-law’s dead… There’s blood all over the house.”
“There’s blood all over the house,” she continued. “My brother-in-law is in the bedroom and it looks like someone has beat the hell out of him.”
A second 911 call was made by a man who said: “I just found my cousin with a gunshot wounds."
Sheriff Reader noted that while the public does not appear to be in harm’s way, the killer or killers are still at large, are probably armed and may be a danger to surviving family members.
“I’ve given the family precautionary measures to make. They know we’re available,” he said, also saying he told the Rhoden family to arm themselves if they felt fearful.
Many surviving family members have reportedly taken shelter in a local church.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is leading the investigation, in which between 50 and 60 people have been interviewed and five search warrants have been issued in hopes of finding leads, authorities said.
Ohio governor and presidential candidate John Kasich tweeted that the incident was “tragic beyond comprehension.”
“We’ll continue to monitor this closely and the state will work w/ local law enforcement however we can,” Kasich tweeted.
Cincinnati-area businessman Jeff Ruby offered $25,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the murders, Attorney General Mike DeWine said.
Devastated loved ones took to social media to express their sorrow over the grisly murders.
“Reality sets in so much when you look at these 3 precious babies and know they won't grow up knowing their mom's and dad's, grandma and grandpa and their aunt's and uncle's,” a cousin wrote on Facebook, posting photos of surviving children whose parents were among those murdered.
“I really hope the pos that walked into my families homes and killed them while Hannah held her newborn and the other babies were sleeping, I hope you truly get what you deserve hell isn't good enough for you… (I’m) completely heartbroken, mad, upset and just don't understand how anyone could do this.”
Anyone with information is asked to call authorities at 1-800-BCI-OHIO.