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US Family Mourns 8 Victims as Authorities Probe 'Calculated Massacre'

  • VOA News

Caskets are loaded into hearses as mourners gather outside Dry Run Church of Christ during funeral services for six of the eight murder victims from Pike County, Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

Caskets are loaded into hearses as mourners gather outside Dry Run Church of Christ during funeral services for six of the eight murder victims from Pike County, Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

A family and community in Ohio closed one chapter in a brutal mass killing Tuesday with funerals for the last six people from a group of eight relatives found dead last month from gunshot wounds.

Still open is the investigation into who killed them.

The victims, who ranged in age from 16 to 44 years old, are all members of the Rhoden family who lived near the town of Piketon in southern Ohio. They were killed in four separate homes, while three young children were left unharmed.

"This is an old-fashioned, cold-blooded, calculated massacre of eight human beings," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said last week.

The killings happened on April 22, and while authorities say they have received more than 450 tips and sent 100 items to a crime lab for testing, they have not announced any suspects or possible motive. DeWine said he assumes whoever committed the crime is watching news reports and he does not want to tell them anything about the investigation.

Local and state law enforcement agencies are getting "specialized technical support" from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency, the attorney general's office said.

"It is believed that the Rhoden family was specifically targeted, and therefore investigators have urged family members to take caution," Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for DeWine, told VOA. "It is also suggested that the rest of the community remain vigilant."

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader announced a boost in patrols last week that he said will remain in place for a while. He told reporters that some of the crime scenes were "absolutely shocking."

Meanwhile, coroners have released a preliminary autopsy report on the eight victims, saying all but one was shot multiple times, including one who had nine gunshot wounds.

What remains unclear is why the family may have been targeted. DeWine said authorities found marijuana growing operations at three of the four homes, which he described as being part of a commercial operation, not just for personal use.

That discovery brought speculation of targeted killings connected to the drug trade. A July DEA report showed southern Ohio as being an area dominated by the Mexican Sinaloa cartel, with some presence of the Los Zetas cartel.

But the attorney general's office has declined to discuss a possible connection between the drugs and the murders.

"Beyond confirming that commercial marijuana grows were found at three of the four crime scenes, we have no additional comment," Del Greco said.

What authorities are saying is that the investigation is complex and could be lengthy, but that they will do whatever is necessary.

"We are going to find who did this," DeWine said.

At the site of Tuesday's standing-room only funeral service, Pike County Prosecutor David Dickerson said the Rhodens are a "very loving and tight family" and that he cannot imagine what they are going through.

"It's probably the most emotional thing I've ever experienced in my life," Dickerson said about the service. "It really was. It was that emotional, and to be expected. They are beyond devastation, but hopefully soon some healing will begin. I don't know when, but I hope soon, for their sake."

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