Investigators in the Florida Panhandle are looking into the deaths of a woman and her two adult sons as a ritualistic killing that could be connected to the recent blue moon.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said they've identified a person of interest in the July 28 deaths of 77-year-old Voncile Smith, 49-year-old Richard Smith and 47-year-old John Smith.

"Initial research had led us to believe it was a ritualistic killing," Morgan said Tuesday.

Asked to elaborate, Morgan said, "The method of the murder — blunt force trauma ... positioning of the bodies — and our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that. The time of death on Tuesday also coincides with what's referred to as a blue moon, which occurs every three years."

All three victims were struck multiple times with a claw hammer and had their throats slit, and Richard Smith also had a gunshot to his right ear, Morgan said.

The bodies were discovered Friday in their Pensacola-area home. But investigators believe the Smiths were killed about 7 p.m. on July 28.

The blue moon, a rare second full moon in a single month, occurred on Friday, July 31, three days after the killings. The sheriff did not explain the discrepancy and his office did not return a telephone call seeking clarification.

Richard Smith was employed by the Department of Homeland Security and worked at Naval Air Station Pensacola, but officials with the Naval Criminal Investigative Services "have determined there are no issues involving ... national security elements," Morgan said.

That information could not be confirmed immediately with NCIS officials.