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Published: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 5:19 PM
The one-year anniversary of the brutal slayings of eight family members in rural Pike County is April 22.
Despite intense media scrutiny and around-the-clock work by investigators, there still remain more questions than answers.
» RELATED: ‘There will always be a scar on this town’
Here are five mysteries that still remain one year later:
1. Who did this?
At various times in the investigation there have been differing theories on who killed the Rhoden family.
After a previous drug bust in the area was mentioned, statements by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine led to speculation that a Mexican drug cartel could have been involved. Commercial marijuana grow operations were found at two of the four murder scenes.
But DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader have since expressed the belief that the perpetrators – the consensus is that there’s more than one – were local to Pike County.
Some officials have speculated the suspects were even closer to the family.
Leonard Manley, whose daughter Dana Rhoden, 37, was one of the eight victims, has previously said whoever entered the property had to be familiar to the family’s dogs, or else they would have barked and attacked.
The victims suffered a combined 32 gunshot wounds – one was shot nine times, two were shot five times each – and some showed soft tissue bruising, suggesting they may have been beaten, according to autopsy reports.
DeWine and Reader would not say at a recent press conference if they believe they’ve interviewed the perpetrator(s).
MORE ON PIKE COUNTY
2. Is the investigation progressing?
DeWine and Reader gave a press conference April 13 and stressed that the case is still a top priority.
But after more than 800 tips, 400 interviews, 38 search warrants and a dozen investigators constantly on the ground in Piketon, there have been no arrests.
DeWine and Reader declined to discuss possible motives, a time-frame for the investigation or scenarios that have been ruled out.
They insist a lack of disclosure about new details will protect the integrity of the investigation — the largest in the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation history. They also insist the case is not cold, and that there exists — somewhere in the county, or elsewhere — someone with answers.
“We will find you,” Reader said to the killer or killers. “We will arrest you, and you will be prosecuted.”
3. Will anyone talk?
The sheriff’s office has hung posters all in various locations around Piketon, advertising a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the case.
Crime Stoppers is accepting donations to increase that amount.
But Reader admitted at the recent press conference that fear of reprisal is still a real factor in this case.
He said he’s sure some of the people they’ve interviewed have lied to them, whether out of fear of getting in trouble for criminal activity, or out of fear that they could be next.
The killings were committed “execution-style,” and whoever did it is still out there. In the immediate aftermath of the crimes, Reader told other members of the Rhoden family to arm themselves for protection.
DeWine said solving the murders is the top priority, and detectives need information.
“This is a homicide investigation,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t care what you’ve done with drugs – we care, but our focus is on the homicide, and so people should not be concerned about coming forward and disclosing information that may be helpful in the investigation.”
4. What was the motive?
Was the family killed by rival drug dealers or were the murders in connection to other criminal activity? There was evidence they were raising roosters for cock fighting, DeWine has said.
This criminal activity, Reader said, was “minute” compared to their slaughter.
“Regardless of their lifestyle, they were human beings,” he said.
Was the murder more personal? In the immediate aftermath, several individuals who had expressed prior disputes with Rhoden family members on social media were questioned, but quickly let go.
There have been more rumors than concrete theories when it comes to motive.
MORE ON PIKE COUNTY
» Timeline: The shocking events of the Pike County shooting
» Photos: Scenes from Pike County six months after a massacre
» DeWine on Pike Co. shootings: Someone involved ‘knew the territory’
» Ohio covers funeral costs for Pike County murder victims
5. Can the community heal?
Things are quieter now in the rural community, but the specter of these slayings, unsolved, still hangs over the people of Pike County. A billboard with the victim’s faces literally hovers over the sheriff’s office.
“I see the look of disappointment when I speak with the family, and I look into their eyes and the grieving they still have,” Reader said last week. He said these murders were the worst thing he’s seen in all his years in law enforcement.
“There will always be a scar on this town,” said Morty Throckmorton, who manages the Smart Mart store in Piketon.
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Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 10:08 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 6:35 AM
— Those ready for spring weather likely won’t like this forecast.
A Winter Storm Watch has been issued for Darke, Preble, Montgomery, Wayne, Randolph, Butler, Warren and Clinton counties from 2 a.m. Saturday through 2 a.m.Sunday. A Winter Storm Watch means conditions are favorable for impactful snow, sleet or ice that can make travel difficult.
A quick-moving low pressure system will spread moisture back into the Miami Valley Saturday and Saturday night, said Storm Center 7 Meteorologist Kirstie Zontini. A band of snow will be possible that, at times, might mix with rain. The system currently is favoring the southern and western half of the Miami Valley where the watch was issued. This means areas such as Logan, Shelby, Auglaize and Mercer counties could see a sharp cut-off from moisture and possibly very little, if any, snow.
The track and intensity of this system is still in question, and fine-tuning will come together during the end of the work week. Counties under the Winter Storm Watch have the best chance to see sticking snow that will could be more than two inches.
A few factors that could limit impact in the Miami Valley: Warm road temperatures allowing for snow melt, snow falling during the day allowing for a mix with rain, the track shifting and pulling the accumulating snow further south.
A few factors that could increase impact in the Miami Valley: Staying colder than expected, a shift further north could spread more snow across the entire area and the intensity of the system.
Stay with Storm Center 7 for the latest updates to this spring snow storm.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 4:03 AM
GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — A Georgia woman was found covered in cockroaches and maggots, bedridden on a sheet smeared in feces, a police report says.
Her caretakers and family members, 54-year-old Terry Ward Sorrells and 18-year-old Christian Alexander Sorrells, have both been charged with neglect of a disabled adult or elder person.
Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services responded to the Sugar Hill home where the woman lived with Terry Sorrells and Christian Sorrells on March 15 after receiving a call for medical assistance. The woman was unresponsive but still alive, the report says.
The AJC is not identifying the woman because she is an alleged victim of neglect.
When the fire crew arrived, they said they saw that maggots and roaches were eating the woman’s flesh and her legs were “completely black and showing signs of decomposition.” They had transported her a month earlier with a “mega mover” — a tarp-like object used by emergency medical technicians to move obese patients — and she was sitting on the same mega mover, now “completely brown and black” and covered in feces. The fire crew called police because “they did not believe she would live much longer and felt a moral obligation to report this,” the report says.
The living conditions inside the home on Pine Tree Circle were “deplorable,” the responding officer said in his report. The officer was “overwhelmed with the smell of human feces and garbage” when he walked into the house, and roaches were crawling on the walls and ceiling of “every single room,” the report says. Garbage lined the floor from the entryway to the kitchen, and covered the floor of the bathroom. In Terry Sorrells’ bedroom, there was a two-foot-high pile of empty Monster energy drink cans, with garbage piled in a closet and covering a dresser, the report says.
Terry Sorrells had gone with the woman in an ambulance before the officer arrived, but Christian Sorrells remained at the house. He told the officer that the woman had been bedridden for one or two years and had been progressively getting worse; she had been admitted into a long-term care facility, but returned home after Medicaid would not cover the cost, the report says. Christian Sorrells also told the officer that no one in the house worked.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 7:13 AM
ATLANTA — He makes a living with his skateboard and his brand, but this month Justin Mallory said that’s exactly what got him in trouble.
Mallory claims he was kicked off a flight out of Atlanta because of his business logo on his shirt which features guns.
“I was flabbergasted. I was taken aback,” Mallory said.
The professional skateboarder said he was kicked off a Frontier Airlines flight because of the logo.
“The shirt is just a graphic,” Mallory told Wilfon.
He said the airline said the shirt made another passenger uncomfortable.
Mallory’s lawyer, Mawuli Davis, calls it discrimination.
“The shirt, some would say he’s dressed in a hip-hop fashion, and he’s African-American. Those three things may have all contributed to the discrimination and profiling against him,” Davis said.
Frontier Airlines tells a much different story.
In a statement to WSB, the airline indicated Mallory’s shirt and race had nothing to do with it.
Frontier said Mallory “became argumentative prior to boarding when asked to check a skateboard. The passenger boarded the aircraft and continued to exhibit disruptive behavior.”
“That’s totally false,” Mallory told Wilfon.
Because he was kicked off the flight, Mallory said he missed a skateboarding trade show where he planned to promote his brand.
Instead, he said it got him in trouble.
“It was a terrible situation. It was embarrassing. I don’t want to see it happen to anyone else. I wouldn’t wish it on someone,” Mallory said.
Mallory and his lawyer told Wilfon they are considering a lawsuit.
A professional skateboarder says this shirt got him kicked off a Frontier flight out of Atlanta. Tonight, we’ve received a statement from the airline as well. Hear from both sides, at 11. @wsbtv pic.twitter.com/Ptu2fnAkhV— Justin Wilfon (@JustinWilfonWSB) March 22, 2018
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 7:10 AM
The state of Ohio has told the group that wants to redevelop the Fire Blocks District that it has until June 30 to prove it has financing for the project or its tax credits may be rescinded.
The Ellway Group won nearly $4.5 million in state historic preservation tax credits in June 2016 to help fund the restoration of the Elks Building and the Huffman Block building on the 100 block of East Third Street.
The development group’s $23 million plan was to create new housing and first-floor retail and restaurant spaces in the mostly vacant buildings.
But this month, the Ohio Development Services Agency sent a letter to Ellway Group CEO Winfield Scott Gibson saying his project has not demonstrated “sufficient evidence of reviewable progress” because the has not closed on financing, according to a copy of the letter obtained by this newspaper through a public records request.
Tax credit recipients risk losing their awards if they fail to show after 18 months that they have secured financing for their proposed rehab projects and have not commenced construction. It’s been about 21 months since the project received its award.
Last month, Gibson sent the state a letter asking to push back the project’s end date until March 31, 2019, saying there were delays related to finding a tax credit investor and securing financing, according to records obtained by this newspaper.
Tax credit recipients must file a 12- or 18-month progress report on their projects with the state.
In the letter, Gibson said project construction financing is expected to close in June and construction should begin on May 1. The state agreed to a short time extension to allow the Ellway Group to secure financing and start construction.
But if that does not happen by the end of June, the Ohio Development Services Agency said it may rescind the approved tax credits and give them away to other projects in upcoming funding rounds.
Gibson told this newspaper that it’s “going to be tight” but he believes his group will close on financing in time to meet the deadline. He also said he has a back-up plan if the project were to lose its state historic tax credits and had to be scrapped — but he says he really hopes it does not come to that.
“The plan is the plan and we’re moving forward,” he said.