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Eight Pike County victims identified as authorities search for clues

By Holly Zachariah • Apr 24, 2016 at 2:50 PM

PIKETON — Every door at the Union Hill Church was wide open, and the people who spilled out in the parking lot Saturday afternoon shared the kind of tearful hugs that only unrelenting grief can prompt.

Outsiders were unwelcome here. This place was a sanctuary — in both the literal and figurative sense — for only the Rhoden family and their closest friends. They all knew who among them had died at the hands of an unnamed and as-yet-uncaptured executioner on Friday, but the outside world didn’t yet know who all the killer had taken.

On Saturday, authorities named those who were shot and killed in four different Pike County locations:

Dana Rhoden, 37; her ex-husband, Christopher Rhoden Sr. 40; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; their daughter, Hanna Rhoden, 19; Frankie’s fianceé, Hannah Gilley, 20; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and Gary Rhoden, 38, whose exact relationship to the others was unclear Saturday.

There was little new information from state and local authorities, though Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, assisting Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader’s investigation, said the four separate crimes scenes on Union Hill and Left Fork roads had been cleared and all evidence collected. That evidence is being processed at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation crime labs. Autopsies will be done by the Hamilton County coroner.

No arrests have been made, and Reader has said repeatedly that more than one killer could be involved. A Cincinnati-area restaurateur has pledged $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and a conviction.

Through a victims' advocate, the Rhoden family thanked law-enforcement officers and the community on Saturday for the overwhelming support, and begged anyone with information on the slayings to call 855-224-6446 and offer up what they know.

"They ask that everyone be respectful of their family, of their loss at this time," said Kimberly Newman with the Ohio Crisis Response Team, who spoke on their behalf.

Though still trying to come to grips Saturday with the unthinkable, this was a Pike County community that just wanted to remember a family that so many loved and who was taken too soon.

Dana Rhoden was known to speak her mind, her friends said, and it was part of her charm. She was loyal to those she loved, worked hard and helped anyone who came along in need.

“She was a good woman,” said Chad Burns, a friend of the Rhodens who had known Dana since grade school. “I lost my job. I was out of work for a year and a half, and she’d come down and she’d give food, clothes to my kids.”

Christopher Rhoden Sr. was a contractor who most recently had been building decks at the Big Bear Lake Family Resort in Lucasville.

Christopher Rhoden Jr., a Piketon High School student, also worked there.

His friends have flooded Facebook this weekend with memories and messages of sorrow.

They say your in a better place but here with me is a better place, driving around in your car and having a blast that's the better place Chris Roden miss u wish u was with me

Hanna Rhoden, his sister, was a new mom. First-responders have said this one maybe hurt the most. Her 4-day-old baby was beside her when Hanna was shot and killed while asleep.

The baby was unharmed, as were two other children, 6 months and 3 years old.

Hanna was a certified nursing assistant for Edgewood Manor in Lucasville for less than three months, said a spokeswoman for Consulate Health Care in Maitland, Florida. She had left her job for her pregnancy but had planned to return to work.

Chris Jr., his dad and Frankie all enjoyed building and driving demolition-derby cars, Burns said.

“Us derby guys, we all kinda stuck together,” he said.

Frankie also worked at the Big Bear resort at one time, but was working at a sawmill most recently. He was engaged to Hannah Gilley, according to his Facebook page. Gilley was self-employed, and went to Northwest High School in McDermott, Ohio, according to her Facebook.

Gary Rhoden was from Greenup, Kentucky, but few other details about him and none about Kenneth Rhoden were available Saturday.

Even as the community tried to go about its usual business Saturday – with so many recognizing that nothing will ever be the same – the released 911 calls offered the first glimpse of how the horror unfolded.

The first caller, at 7:49 a.m., came from a home on Union Hill Road. “I think my brother-in-law’s dead,” she told dispatchers.

“There’s blood all over the house. My brother-in-law’s in the bedroom,” she said. As deputies responded to that call, they were flagged down to find two more crime scenes.

>> When big tragedy hits small towns, first responders can pay heavy toll

The call to where the eighth victim was discovered at the fourth scene came later Friday afternoon.

“I need a deputy to come out to 799 Left Fork. All this stuff that’s on the news — I just found my cousin with a gunshot wound,” the man said.

The 911 operator asked if his cousin was alive.

“No, no,” the man said quietly.

It’s all really just too much to bear, said Donna Musser, a cousin of Dana Rhoden’s who grew up in southern Ohio but now lives in Texas.

“They’d just do anything for anyone,” she said. “To think that anyone would have a grudge against them is just unbelievable.”

———

Dispatch Staff Reporters Mark Ferenchik and JoAnne Viviano contributed to this story.

©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

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