It’s been a year since eight members of a rural Pike County family – ages 16 to 44 – were found murdered at four locations southwest of Piketon. No one has been charged and officials acknowledge fear among locals might hinder solving the case.
The call to 9-1-1 came in at 7:49 on the morning of April 22nd, 2016. In the hours that followed authorities would find eight members of the Rhoden family shot to death at four rural Pike County locations. Authorities blocked access to winding and narrow Union Hill Road where many of the Rhodens lived.
Fear, says Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader, spread quickly. Reader described the crime scenes this way:
“[The] most brutal homicide of eight people that I have ever experienced.”
Just before 10 that morning, Phil Fulton, the pastor of nearby Union Hill Church opened the fellowship hall to tearful, trembling relatives.
“It’s unimaginable…that four different locations that something like this would take place. It really shook the community to the very core,” Fulton said. “You know, walk into a trailer and find a little baby laying between the mother and dad and grabbing that child covered in blood and running out of the house.”
Law enforcement officials launched a massive investigation – one that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine describes as the largest the state has ever seen:
“In the history of BCI this is the biggest investigation that has ever occurred. Biggest in the sense of the number of interviews, biggest in the sense of number of hours that has been spent on this case.”
At its peak, officials say, almost a hundred Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents were working in Pike County gathering evidence, running down tips, interviewing people with information. Police received nearly 900 tips; they conducted several hundred interviews; executed three dozen search warrants. The mobile homes in which the Rhodens lived were towed away and stored at a secure location – an attempt to preserve the crime scenes.
These days the number of BCI investigators in Pike County is somewhere around ten. Gone are the hordes of news media that descended on Pike County early on.
Resident after resident I approached refused to talk about the case.
Attorney General DeWine acknowledges that locals might be losing hope. But, DeWine says, he’s sure that the case will be solved.
“I fully understand residents of Pike County’s frustration that we are a year into this investigation and we do not have an arrest. However, we can tell the people of Pike County we are absolutely doing everything in our power to figure out who committed these horrible, horrible crimes,” he said.
The sheriff and the attorney general continue to ask anyone with information to come forward. Sheriff Reader says he thinks fear is still widespread.
“Nobody is going to come and speak with us without the fear of them being known and maybe being subject to the same thing that these eight victims fell to. The fear of retaliation from whoever these killers are – that’s real and people feel that,” Reader.
Those events, Pastor Fulton says, are forever etched in his memory.
“You know they say time heals. That’s not true. Time just helps you deal with it better,” he said.
Fulton does believe that a breakthrough in the case could help Pike County move on.
“I really believe that if there were arrests and convictions it would bring closure for the family. And for the community,” he said.
But at this point, there is no sign that closure will come soon.