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Homes where family members were killed execution-style had marijuana-growing sites, officials say

By Jennifer Smola • Updated Apr 25, 2016 at 10:23 PM

PIKETON — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine confirmed late this afternoon that there were marijuana-growing operations at three of the Piketon homes where eight family members were found dead on Friday morning.

DeWine also called the mass slayings in Piketon "a pre-planned execution of eight individuals" and a "sophisticated operation" in a news conference late Sunday afternoon.

But he and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader would say little else.

Both said they wouldn't comment on any information that could jeopardize the case, including whether there was more than one shooter or on any other rumors that have been going around Pike County.

DeWine said that law-enforcement officers have followed more than 100 tips and conducted 50 to 60 interviews since eight members of the Rhoden family were found dead early Friday morning.

He did say that the killer or killers did "everything they could" to cover up evidence and make it difficult to solve the case.

"This is not your case where someone's got mad at someone and shot them," DeWine said.

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Parishioners at the Union Hill Church drew close this morning in the sanctuary just up the hill from where authorities had blocked off where eight of their own had died.

During the past few days, members of the Rhoden family and their close friends had gathered at the church and its fellowship center to grieve in private. Today, it was Sunday morning services as usual.

There can be miles from one home to the next in this Appalachian community on the border of Pike and Adams counties. But there were no hills or miles between those at the church today, as about 100 adults and children filed into the pews shoulder-to-shoulder.

And then they got closer yet.

Pastor Phil Fulton invited everyone to leave their seats, come to the altar and huddle together at the front of the church.

What space they couldn't fill with their bodies they filled with their voices, throwing up their hands and joining together in singing "Amazing Grace" and other hymns, and shouting out prayers, many of which were for the Rhoden family.

"This has been heartbreaking for everyone I know," said one woman who stood up in her pew between song verses. "It's also a big eye opener. I just think about those kids."

The kids she spoke of were the three children who were left untouched as the eight members of their family were shot to death, likely in their sleep, at four different homes in Pike County. The children who survived the horror included a 4-day-old baby who was in bed with mother Hanna Rhoden, 19, when she was killed, as well as a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old.

Authorities haven't yet identified the children or their gender.

Besides Hanna Rhoden, the dead who were found early Friday morning were identified as Hanna's mother, Dana Rhoden, 37; Dana's ex-husband, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Frankie’s fianceé, Hannah Gilley, 20; Kenneth Rhoden, 44, who is Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s brother; and Gary Rhoden, 38, a cousin.

Authorities said that the 3-year-old is the child of Frankie; the 6-month-old is the child of Frankie and Hannah Gilley.

So far, there have been no arrests in the deaths. Authorities have called a news conference for 4:30 p.m. today.

Autopsies are expected to be performed on all eight bodies through this weekend at the Hamilton County coroner's office. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is assisting Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader’s investigation of the four separate crimes scenes on Union Hill and Left Fork roads. Evidence is being processed at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Church leaders have said some of the victims attended Union Hill Church. There were a few Rhoden family members at the service this morning, church leaders said, and Fulton invited the community back again for another service later this evening.

"Eight precious souls went on to meet the Lord" sometime between midnight Thursday and Friday morning," Fulton said during the early service. "Now, they're in God's hands."

He urged those in the pews to think about their own lives, and their own faith.

"Eternity's just a breath away," he said. "Just a breath away."

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©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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