COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Four days after the calculated killings of eight people in rural Ohio, a prosecutor revealed Monday that marijuana was found at some of the crime scenes, including a grow-house sheltering hundreds of plants.
“It wasn’t just somebody sitting pots in the window,” Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk told The Columbus Dispatch.
The victims — all members of an extended family — were fatally shot in the head, including a young mother whose newborn baby was sleeping beside her Friday morning. That baby, another infant and a toddler were spared.
The victims were remembered on Monday as loyal and caring people. More than a dozen counselors, clergy and psychologists arrived at the local high school to help friends and neighbors handle their grief.
Dana Rhoden, who was killed along with her three children, her ex-husband, and three other relatives, “always wanted what was best for her kids,” Scioto Valley Local School District Superintendent Todd Burkitt said Monday.
The youngest victim, Christopher Rhoden Jr., was a 16-year-old freshman at Piketon High School, which has just 530 students.
“He was the first one that if he thought that someone wasn’t being treated fairly or felt like someone wasn’t being treated appropriately, he would speak up about it,” Burkitt said.
The teen’s siblings — 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden and 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden — also had attended the school.
All eight autopsies have been completed, and while authorities have released no details about a motive, the Attorney General’s office did confirm Monday that one of the victims had received a threat via Facebook. Junk, the prosecutor, did not immediately respond to multiple requests from The Associated Press for comment.
At a news conference on Sunday, Attorney General Mike DeWine called the killings “a sophisticated operation,” and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader said citizens should assume that those responsible are armed and dangerous.
Extensive marijuana-growing operations are not uncommon in sparsely populated rural southern Ohio, an economically distressed corner of Appalachia. Two of the four homes that became crime scenes Friday are within walking distance of each other along a remote, winding road leading into wooded hills from a rural highway. The others are nearby.
Piketon — about 60 miles south of Columbus and 90 miles east of Cincinnati — is in Pike County, which is home to just 28,000 people and has an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, considerably higher than Ohio’s rate of 5.1. A main employer is a shuttered Cold War-era uranium plant whose cleanup provides hundreds of local jobs.
More than 22,000 marijuana plants were seized in Pike County in 2010, and while authorities made no arrests, they said they found two abandoned camps where Mexican nationals apparently stayed. In 2012, another 1,200 plants were seized in Pike County in an operation connected to a Mexican drug cartel, the Attorney General’s office said. Seizures continued in 2013 and 2014 in the county.
The victims have been identified as 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; their cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden; and 20-year-old Hannah Gilley, whose 6-month old son with “Frankie” was unharmed.
DeWine said the state’s crime lab was looking at 18 pieces of evidence from a DNA and ballistic standpoint, and that five search warrants have been executed. More than 100 tips have been given to investigators, and a Cincinnati-area businessman offered a $25,000 reward for details leading to those responsible.
Associated Press writers Kantele Franko and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that Piketon is east of Cincinnati, not west of Cincinnati.