The unexplained murders of an Ohio family has left residents of a small rural community shocked as authorities still tried to find Saturday any suspects and a motive in the grisly murders.
The bodies of seven adults and a teenage boy were found Friday in four different homes near Piketon, about 60 miles south of Columbus.
Kayla Hay worked with one of the victims – 37-year-old Dana Rhoden – as a nurse’s aide at a nursing home. Hay said she was shocked and saddened when she heard that Rhoden was among the dead in the killing spree.
“I’ve never heard her say anything about being frightened or concerned about anything bad happening,” said Hay, who described Rhoden as outgoing and friendly. “She was always in a good mood and was very bright, both in her personality and her intelligence.”
All the victims identified Saturday were members of the Rhoden family. The others were identified 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; 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden.
Authorities said it appeared the victims were murdered while they slept, including Hanna Rhoden, who was in bed with her newborn baby nearby. The infant was about 4-days-old. The infant, Hannah Gilley’s 6-month-old baby, and one other small child were not hurt.
Police said none of the injuries appeared to be suicide. A search for the killer or killers continued Saturday, and investigators said they had interviewed more than 30 people, including three from Chillicothe.
“Investigators from Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and local law enforcement worked through the night, talking to individuals, gathering information, and executing search warrants,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a news release. “Evidence from the crime scenes is being processed and analyzed through the weekend.”
Robin Waddel, who owns the Big Bear Lake Family Resort just south of Piketon, told the Associated Press Christopher Rhoden often did work for him as a carpenter and helped with his excavation business. He said Rhoden was a nice guy whose kids would visit while he was working.
“It’s a large family,” Waddell said. “There’s a lot of them and they’ve been in this community for generations. So this is affecting a lot of people.”
Kendra Jordan, 20, said she often worked nights at a nursing home with Hanna Rhoden and described her as outgoing, funny and always smiling.
“If you were having a bad day, she’d be the first one to come up to you to question you about what was going on,” Jordan said. “She was amazing.”
Pastor Phil Fulton, of the Union Hill Church, described the Rhodens as a close-knit and hardworking family. He said they were previously part of his congregation, though not recently. He said a crisis resource team was at the church to work with the family.
“They’re not doing well with this situation at all,” Fulton said. “A tragic situation like this …”
Scioto Valley Local School District Superintendent Todd Burkitt told the Chillicothe Gazette Saturday that the county is committed to sending support to Piketon High School beginning Monday and will stay as long as students or staff members need it.
“We don’t have all the answers for this,” Burkitt said. “It’s by far the worst part of the job, when something happens to a kid. None of it makes sense.”
Piketon Jr/Sr High School has about 530 students combined, according to numbers from the Ohio Department of Education.
The Rhoden family released a statement through the Ohio Crisis Response Team Saturday, according to Fox 19.
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Lt. Michael Preston, of the Ross County Sheriff’s Department speaks to the media on Union Hill Road that approaches a crime scene, Friday, April 22, 2016, in Pike County, Ohio.
“The Rhoden family would like to thank everyone for all the outpouring of prayers and support for their family. They ask to continue to keep them in your prayers,” the statement read. “They would like to thank all law enforcement from Pike County and surrounding counties for their immediate response. Especially, to Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader for all his hard work. They would like to thank the Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, his staff, BCI agents, all EMS services and first responses.”
The family also urged anyone with information to call 1-855-BCI-OHIO.
The exact timing of the shootings remains unclear. Authorities got the first 911 call shortly before 8 a.m. Friday; the second came several hours later from another location.
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 of the state Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
Authorities refused to discuss many details of the crime, including the search operations.
Officials said a Cincinnati-area businessman put up a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the killer or killers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.