breaking news

Expert says Pike County shooting likely business, not personal

Published: Tuesday, April 26, 2016 @ 6:00 AM
Updated: Friday, April 29, 2016 @ 11:54 AM

Victim's dad: Killers knew family members

The lack of answers so far in the execution-style killings of eight members of the Rhoden family has left a Pike County community on edge.

  • Local psychologist says killings are likely business, not personal
  • Community members scared; say ‘cloud is over town’
  • Sunday services brought community together to grieve, support family


Justin Shaffer of Otway said he believes drugs were a factor in the killings.

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“Definitely,” Shaffer said Friday. “That’s what it is. That’s what’s going around.”

Shaffer said people in the community are scared and arming themselves.

“Around here, everybody’s armed,” Shaffer said. “They ain’t going to be no talking if they come in the house.”

Brittany Barker, a neighbor on Union Hill Road, said she feels safe right now with police and investigators on scene. But when they leave, she admits she’s “going to be kind of scared.”

She believes the marijuana grow operation was not a motive for the crime because she never saw any trouble with the family.

“It’s heart-breaking,” Barker said. “I would never have thought in a million years something like would happen out here. You don’t hear anything that happen out here. They were good people. I don’t know what happened. I don’t. I’m just thankful them babies are alive and unharmed.”

Michael Williams, a Dayton clinical psychologist, said based on what information has been released — the sophistication of the attacks, the fact that young children were spared — may give clues to the motives of the killers.

“I think they are probably some seasoned criminals who have a clear method of what they do and probably … in line with the old Godfather movies,” he said. “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

Additionally, the discovery of marijuana grow operations at three of the four murder scenes should make anyone in the community not involved in those activities breathe easier, he said.

“They should feel safe because (the killers) were not indiscriminate but very deliberate, particularly very precise,” Williams said, noting that the illegal grow operations discovery help law enforcement narrow the field of suspects. “It could help them judge some leads as dead ends and follow others as more fruitful.”

And with no emotional attachment, friends and family members may slide down the list of potential killers.

“It would lead me to believe these are outside people, outsiders that had done good intel,” he said.

Vanetta Throckmorton, 50, said everybody is scared.

“Once people find out what happened, people might breathe easier,” Throckmorton said as she worked Monday at the Smart Mart in Piketon.

Throckmorton said her son knew Hannah Gilley, and “she was a real good kid. She was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Tim Hughes, 52, said people are going about their daily lives, but with a cloud over the town.

“It’s going to be something in the back of everybody’s mind for a long time,” he said. “People will be looking over their shoulders awhile before they bring these guys to justice.”

The Union Hill Church between Piketon and Peebles on Ohio 124 was one place where people gathered Sunday to share their grief and support each other and the Rhoden family. Members of the Rhoden family joined an evening prayer service.

“The community will have to go on. The families, no, I don’t think they’ll be able to. But the communities will have to go on,” Tessa Swayne of Pike County said. “Our hearts will still be heavy. And we’ll be praying for them continually.”

During Sunday morning’s services at Union Hill Church, member Dennis Ward and Pastor Phil Fulton addressed the congregation. About 100 people were in attendance.

“Praise God loves us. Help us understand why things happen comes our way,” said Ward. “We’re in God’s hands. We’re in God’s hands.”

Ward urged the congregation to take God into their lives so that they would be ready.

“One way or the other, we’re going to go out and meet Jesus,” Ward said.

Pastor Fulton also urged the congregation to accept Jesus before their lives ended.

“Eight precious souls went out to meet the Lord,” Fulton said. “If that would have been you, where would you be in eternity? Eternity’s just a breath away.

“These past few days it’s been a stressful time,” he added. “Keep this family in prayer and pray that they find those who committed this crime.”

Piketon is a community of 2,158 in Pike County, which has 28,217 residents, according to the 2015 census. The county is classified by the Appalachian Regional Commission as “distressed” and the unemployment rate is among the highest in the state, according to the county website.

About Pike County

  • 28,217: Population
  • 2,158: Piketon population
  • 300: Estimated jobs at county’s largest employer, United States Enrichment Corp.
  • 200: Estimated jobs at county’s second largest employer, Ohio Valley Veneer
  • 11: Number of churches in Piketon
  • 8.6: Percent unemployed in Pike County


(Sources: U.S. Census, Pike County,, and Ohio Job and Family Services)