COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Fear in the community is holding back information about the massacre of eight family members in southern Ohio nearly a year after the still-unsolved killings, investigators said Thursday.
Some of that fear is of retaliation by the killers, and some is fear of self-incrimination based on witnesses’ own criminal activity — likely involving drugs — unrelated to the slayings, investigators said.
“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 with such fears who come forward will be treated fairly, added Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is leading the investigation. The focus is on the homicide, not those individuals’ crimes, he said.
Reader also 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’ own 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,” Reader said.
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.
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.
On April 22, 2016, investigators found seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family shot to death at four homes near Piketon, about 68 miles (109 kilometers) south of Columbus. A newborn, another baby and a young child were unharmed.
Despite a massive investigation, no arrests have been made and no suspects identified.
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.”
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 and not out-of-towners. 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 filed 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