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Local, state leaders react to Pike County killings

By JoAnne Viviano • Apr 24, 2016 at 2:52 PM

As they reel from the news that eight people in their community were mercilessly slain, residents of an Appalachian Ohio community will need time to heal. But they will pull through and they will rally around those most in need of comfort, elected officials from the area said on Saturday.

"That's just what we do," said Piketon Mayor Billy Spencer. "People will pitch in and help these folks.

"I've talked to a lot of people, and they're shocked, they're torn up. This is unheard of — eight people killed like this — it just has people thinking, they're on edge. But we'll pull together. We're tough down here."

Piketon is about 15 to 20 miles from the area in rural Pike County where authorities say that eight people, ages 16 to 44, from the Rhoden family were wiped out, shot in the head execution style as at least some of them slept in their beds. The person or people responsible remain at large.

Many people in the community knew the victims, said Commissioner Blaine Beekman.

He went to breakfast Saturday in his hometown of Waverly, about five miles north of Piketon, and said people were concerned. They're locking up as they leave their homes in neighborhoods where doors usually remain unlocked. They're trying to decide if they should skip the county's annual Dogwood Festival, being held this weekend.

“It’s just so horrific that we can't get our arms around the full impact of this tragedy,” said Beekman, a former teacher. “It’s two days from the event. It hasn’t even dawned on us all of the repercussions we’re going to feel.”

Like Spencer, he's confident that, when surviving victims are ready to be drawn back into the community, they’ll get support.

“People are going to draw together,” he said. “They’re not going to be left alone.”

Spencer had been to the festival, where he noticed that attendance seemed down. People, he said, are uncertain and frightened.

Former Piketon Village Councilwoman Barb Barker also had stopped by the festival, where she noticed that someone was selling water, $3 a bottle, with a promise to donate proceeds to help surviving Rhoden family members pay for funerals.

Local officials weren't alone in their concern for their communities.

U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, had closed his office in nearby Peebles in Adams County on Friday.

On Saturday, he said he had been in regular contact with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is helping with the investigation and also had been in touch with Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader. Wenstrup said he ans his wife were praying for the people affected.

"People in the community seem to be moving on as best they can, going on with their daily business as best they can," he said. "Obviously, this gonna take some time to heal."

"What you do, you go hug your wife and your kids. I think everybody is on guard, as we are, in the community. It's one of those things — you hear about stuff all the time, and now it's here in our backyard."

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement Saturday that he and his wife, Connie Schultz, were thinking of the Pike County community and that he was grateful for the efforts of law enforcement agencies.

"Ohioans come together following tragedy to support their families and neighbors," the statement said.

Online, other officials expressed support.

On Friday, Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman tweeted: "Deeply saddened by today's tragic shooting in Pike County. Please join me in praying for everyone in this devastated community."

Also Friday, state Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, R-Wilmington, tweeted that he was monitoring the situation "as our community copes w/ these senseless acts of violence" and encouraged people with information to contact authorities.

"Today's fatal shootings in Pike County shook our community & all of Ohio. My prayers are with the victims & family at this difficult time," he tweeted.

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©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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

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