I am a native Ohioan and fairly astute at geography. Correctly recalling the 88 Ohio counties was achieved in a long-ago exam at Delaware Hayes. Naming them all successfully now would be impossible.
Pike and Adams counties have remained in my memory. Yet Peebles, Ohio, was an unknown hamlet to me and the news-watching nation — until Friday. Now most Americans are familiar with all three Ohio geographic locations, but for reasons far from favorable. Ohio’s ongoing media focus as an epicenter for drug distribution and usage continues.
Eight members of the Rhoden family lost their lives as they slept during the early hours of Friday morning. The victims’ ages ranged from 16 to 40 years. Only a 3-year-old, a 6-month-old infant and a 4-day-old newborn were spared an executioner’s bullet to the head. Possibly the killer or killers theorized that the survivors were too young to recall, verbalize and describe the carnage that occurred around them.
Ironically, just last Thursday, one day before to the slayings, I had a conversation with someone from that remote southeastern Ohio area. She exited many years ago, but returns on occasion to celebrate holidays with family members who remain in that long-suffering, economically depressed area.
The woman described the downward spiral of her hometown and the surrounding area after several large industrial plants — that served as the financial lifeline for local residents — closed. According to her description, the drug trade has replaced those former employers as an economic catalyst for some of the area’s unemployed.
The Rhoden family were “farmers.” Marijuana was their crop. Three of the four Rhoden residences hosted elaborate indoor marijuana-growing venues that yielded a harvest every three months. The estimated street value of the plants discovered by authorities was $500,000. Whether there is a connection between the family’s marijuana-growing operation and their deaths has yet to be confirmed.
This is not Pike County’s first encounter with marijuana production. During August 2012, Ohio law enforcement officers found “a major marijuana grow site in Pike County with suspected ties to a Mexican drug cartel,” according to a press release from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office. The 1,200 marijuana plants discovered and destroyed in that raid — which were found at two abandoned campsites — possibly belonged to Mexican nationals, the press release stated.
The proposed legalization of marijuana in Ohio was resoundingly defeated by voters during the November 2015 election. Millions of advertising dollars were spent promoting the merits of marijuana decriminalization.
I have encountered many clients who use marijuana. “Recreational usage” can lead to more serious addiction issues, as was addressed by the CBS “60 Minutes” segment titled “Heroin in the Heartland,” which aired Nov. 1, 2015, and was the focus of this column Nov. 11, 2015.
The drug problem within Ohio continues to haunt the Buckeye State. Whether it is a lack of economic opportunities for “legitimate” income in beleaguered geographic areas such as Pike and Adams counties, the boredom of our youth due to minimal educational or employment opportunities, or the publicized merits of medicinal usage, marijuana is far from an “innocent” drug.
An association between the eight Rhoden family murders and the 2012 Pike County marijuana confiscation remains uncertain. Sadly, the surviving Rhoden members have been advised to “arm themselves” by authorities and stay sequestered until the killer or killers are apprehended. The impact of this tragedy will continue for those relatives, southeastern Ohio and the nation, long beyond any arrests for the massacre of these eight victims.
The most grievous legacy from this story is the loss of the parents for the young child and the two infants who were spared execution. Whether they will ever feel safe after surviving this horrendous tragedy could be an unanswered question for the entirety of their young lives. Overcoming this horrific event will be a life-long challenge for all three. My condolences to anyone who knew the Rhodens.