WEST PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (AP) — Traffic stopped for miles as black hearses left a church and snaked past mobile homes, weathered shops and green fields, leading a procession of mourners in more than 150 vehicles.
The burials Tuesday of six relatives at a hillside cemetery in southern Ohio followed the third and final funeral for the eight family members killed in what authorities say was a planned massacre targeting them.
Mourners crowded under blue tents shielding the caskets from overcast skies and said goodbyes as sheriff’s deputies stood in the background. Afterward, they ambled back down the hill, leaving the caskets in the country quiet — white for the two women, brown for the three men and the teenage boy.
The Rhoden family members were found dead April 22 at four homes near Piketon, about 80 miles east of Cincinnati. All eight were shot in the head; some had other gunshot wounds and bruising, say authorities still trying to determine who killed them and why. Two babies and a young child were unharmed.
The funeral honored 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna; and Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden.
Services for a Rhoden cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38, and Frankie Rhoden’s fiancee, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley, were held last week.
Some mourners arrived for Tuesday’s half-hour service at Dry Run Church of Christ in West Portsmouth wearing blue jeans and bright orange shirts with the words “Rhoden Proud, Rhoden Strong.” A sign out front quoted a Bible verse: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Inside, near the caskets decorated with flowers and ribbons in the victims’ favorite colors, Christopher and Kenneth’s sister tearfully urged the crowd to be forgiving and loving, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
“Don’t take life for granted. In the blink of an eye, everything can change,” Wilma McCoy said.
Speaking for the family, a victim’s advocate from the Pike County prosecutor’s office said they’re grateful for the support they’ve received. He repeated their plea that anyone with information about the case contact investigators.
“Hopefully soon some healing will begin,” advocate David Dickerson said.
Church minister Mark Seevers said he didn’t know the family but was happy to oblige when asked to provide space for the large funeral gathering, calling what happened “a sorrowful tragedy.”
“The southern Ohio community is a close-knit family, and even though it was, you know, 20 to 30 minutes away, it rocked our community,” Seevers said.
Authorities have conducted nearly 130 interviews and are reviewing about 450 tips and over 100 pieces of evidence, Attorney General Mike DeWine said Monday.
They found a large-scale illegal marijuana growing operation at one of the crime scenes and said pot was cultivated at some of the other homes, too — something not uncommon in this corner of Appalachia. But they haven’t said whether they believe the operation is connected to the deaths.
DeWine said he wouldn’t speculate about whether a threat to the family remains. After the bodies were discovered, law enforcement officials said the family apparently was targeted and urged surviving members to take precautions.
“We have no new information that would indicate that there is a threat to any of the members of the family,” DeWine said. “We don’t have any information on that. And we did not when we initially said it other than the fact we had eight people killed.”
Associated Press photographer John Minchillo in West Portsmouth and reporter Ann Sanner in Columbus contributed to this report.
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