Six months after a massacre that left eight family members dead in Pike County, Ohio, two of their surviving relatives spoke out about the shooting, denying they were the targets of an angry Mexican drug cartel.
"It’s easier to just say, well, it’s the drug cartel than to say someone in our community could have done this... If you say cartel, everyone’s going to go for it because there’s drugs," Kendra Rhoden told Fox 19. Her father, Kenneth, was the eighth and final relative investigators found dead on April 22.
Kendra Rhoden says she believes the killer or killers are still nearby. "I believe the community knows more than they’re saying. Someone has to know something."
Early on, investigators said they uncovered a large-scale illegal marijuana growing operation at one of the crime scenes and said pot was being cultivated at some of the other homes, too, leading to suggestions Mexican cartels might have been involved.
Large marijuana operations are common in southern Ohio. Investigators in 2012 said the seizure of about 1,200 plants in Pike County could be related to a Mexican drug cartel.
Kendra Rhoden said there was no way a cartel would target her relatives. "If they had as much marijuana and they were selling as much marijuana as they’re saying, then I wouldn’t be busting my butt to put myself through [nursing] school... My dad wouldn’t have had to work every day, drive back and forth to Columbus to make a living."
She said the cloud of speculation surrounding possible drug cartel ties haunted the surviving family members. "We go out in public and people look at us like we’re drug heads. That the only reason we have a car or anything is because we sell drugs, or my father sold drugs. That’s not the case. I’ve had a job since I was eight years old."
The victims were Kenneth Rhoden, 44; Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr. and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden; a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden; and Frankie Rhoden's fiancee, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley, whose 6-month-old son with Frankie Rhoden was unharmed.
Most of the victims were shot multiple times in the head and, in the case of Christopher Rhoden Sr., in his upper body and torso, as well. Some bodies showed signs of bruising, as if they'd been beaten. Kenneth Rhoden's body turned up at his trailer a few miles away from the properties on Union Hill Road.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, overseeing the investigation along with the sheriff, has said only that the killers had to be familiar with land around the properties, as well as the properties themselves.
Though many residents of the rural county about 80 miles south of Columbus also believe the killers are local, most aren't worried about their safety. They believe the family members were specifically targeted.
"I don't think nobody's going to come forward and say, 'Oh, I know who did this,'" said Dana Lansing, who lives with her husband about 3 miles from the main crime scene and who was a longtime friend of Dana Rhoden. "Because it's too big. They would fear for their own lives if they did."
Fox 19 also found that investigators filled a nearby warehouse with evidence including pictures, clothing and cars -- and left it unlocked and unguarded.
"Everything that my kids have left of their father is there," Kendra's mother, Stacie Rhoden-Rigsby, told the news station. Fox 19 reported that a new lock appeared around the warehouse after the security gap was uncovered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.