COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Residents of a rural southern Ohio county are holding back information on the unsolved massacre of eight family members based on fear, authorities said Thursday as the anniversary of the crime approaches.
Some are worried about retaliation by the killers. Others fear incriminating themselves over their own criminal activity — likely involving drugs — unrelated to the slayings, investigators said during a news conference to update the public on the investigation.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind or in any investigator’s mind that there’s information that may be part truth, but not all the way true,” said Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader.
Witnesses who come forward will be treated fairly, said Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is leading the investigation. The focus is on the homicide, not those individuals’ crimes, he said.
On April 22, 2016, investigators found seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family shot to death at four homes near Piketon. A newborn, another baby and a young child were unharmed.
One of the victims, Christopher Rhoden Sr., operated a commercial marijuana growing operation on his property “with the purpose of distributing the marijuana,” according to DeWine’s office.
Reader on Thursday pleaded for more donations to the reward fund, stuck at $10,000 for several months, for information leading to a conviction.
The sheriff hinted that the victims’ involvement in drug crime may be holding people back from donating.
“These are human beings, regardless of what they did for a living, regardless if they live in rural Pike County,” said Reader, who grew emotional at times talking about the “complete devastation” of the killings.
Both DeWine and Reader said they expect an arrest someday, with DeWine saying “significant progress” has been made and the case is still his office’s top priority. DeWine expressed frustration that he couldn’t make public all the information investigators have gathered.
“We are going to find you. We are going to arrest you. And justice will be done,” DeWine said, addressing the killers.
Despite a massive investigation, no arrests have been made and no suspects identified.
Investigators have received 883 tips to date and conducted 465 interviews, which includes people interviewed more than once.
Family members still waiting for answers say updates from investigators have dwindled. Glenna Gilley, whose 20-year-old granddaughter, Hannah Gilley, was among those killed, speculated that people with information might be afraid to come forward.
“I’m sure there’s someone somewhere that knows something,” she said Wednesday.
Gilley, 65, described her granddaughter as a good person and “a wonderful mother.”
The three children who were spared in the slayings are in foster care and receiving visits from immediate family members, Reader said.
Last month, relatives distributed posters with photos of the victims in hopes of turning up local tips.
Reader said he believes those responsible were from the area. DeWine said the killers had to be familiar with the land around the properties as well as the properties themselves.
Leonard Manley, whose daughter and three grandchildren were killed, said it was suspicious that any assailants were able to get by his daughter’s two dogs.
Three trailers and a camper where the slayings took place were seized by investigators afterward and remain in storage.
Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court is weighing lawsuits by The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer seeking the full, un-redacted autopsies of the victims.
The other victims were Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; and their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr.; and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden.
Also killed were Hannah Gilley, who was Frankie Rhoden’s fiancee; a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44, Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother.
Kenneth Rhoden died of a single gunshot wound to the head. His body was the last one found by investigators.
The other victims were shot multiple times in the head and, in the case of Christopher Rhoden Sr., in his upper body and torso as well.
Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins