Slayings of family ‘pre-planned execution,’ marijuana operations found at crime scenes

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP/WCMH) – Attorney General Mike DeWine said Sunday that the slayings of eight family members in rural southern Ohio “was a pre-planned execution” and he expects the investigation will be lengthy.

The Friday killings at four different homes near Piketon was “a sophisticated operation,” DeWine said at a news conference in the small community that has been on edge since the seven adults and one teenage boy were found shot in the head.

“This was very methodical. This was well planned. This was not something that just happened,” said Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader, saying most were targeted while they were sleeping.

Reader said he didn’t believe safety was an issue for others, but he said: “If you are fearful, arm yourself.”

Authorities have been scrambling to determine who targeted the clan and why.

“We don’t know whether it was one or more people involved in this,” DeWine said Sunday.

Investigators have interviewed more than 50 people in hopes of finding leads in the deaths. A team of 38 law enforcement officials are combing wooded areas around the shooting scenes to ensure no evidence was missed.

DeWine said the state’s crime lab was looking at 18 pieces of evidence from a DNA and ballistic standpoint, and five search warrants have been executed. Autopsies were expected to be completed Monday.

The victims were identified Saturday as 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his 16-year-old son, Christopher Rhoden Jr.; 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; 38-year-old Gary Rhoden; 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden.

It appeared some of the family members were killed as they slept, including Hanna Rhoden, who was in bed with her newborn baby nearby, authorities said. The infant was 4- or 5-days old. The baby, Hannah Gilley’s 6-month-old baby, and 1 other small child were not hurt.

Since the slayings, authorities have refused to discuss many details of the crime, including any evidence or the search for the assailant or assailants.

DeWine said that investigators did find marijuana-growing operations at three crime scenes.

Investigators sought tips and gave people a number to call if they had any details about the crimes. Cincinnati-area businessman Jeff Ruby also put up a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the killer or killers.

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 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 Bureau of Criminal Investigations.

More than 100 tips have been given to investigators, who’ve set up a number for people to call as police seek information about the crimes. Anyone with information on this case is asked to call toll free at 1-855-BCI-OHIO or the Pike County Sheriff’s Office at 740-947-2111.

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