It’s when they talk about their mom that the adult Rhoden children cry.
Rhoden family members each saw their lives change three months ago when killers methodically massacred eight members of their family.
Arguably, though, it is matriarch Geneva Rhoden, 73, who lost the most on April 22: two sons, a daughter-in-law, three grandchildren, a nephew. The killers left unharmed three of her great-grandchildren that morning.
But she hasn’t gotten to see two of those babies since before that horrible day in April. The children remain in the custody of county protective services, which will not discuss the children or the case. They've told Geneva Rhoden she must file a court motion to start the process to see little Kylie Rhoden, now 3 months old, and Ruger Rhoden, now 9 months old.
And if Tony Rhoden’s heart could splinter anymore, this would be why.
“I just don’t understand why Mom can’t see them," said Tony Rhoden, Geneva Rhoden's son and the brother of victim Christopher Rhoden Sr. "They are all she has left of my brother. Those kids are all that’s left of him.’’
It is one of so many things that don’t make sense to the surviving Rhodens as the state’s murder investigation enters its fourth month with no arrest, no identified suspect and no known motive. The family has lived amid hurtful rumors, swirling speculation and a brewing custody battle for the children.
Many remain jumpy, anxious and unable to sleep with a killer not caught.
Without many facts available, dozens in the extended family, most of whom live in Pike, Scioto and Adams counties, are left to wait and wonder. They cling to fraying strands of hope that authorities will eventually provide answers to their questions.
"I just hope they get it right," Tony Rhoden said. "I pray to God they get it right.
"A tragedy of this magnitude, they can't afford to not get it right."
Their concern grows with each passing day. And the disclosure Thursday that authorities had approved a $10,000 reward in the case on May 10 but waited 10 weeks to publicize it because of a communications error is not making matters any better.
"I’m frustrated, yes," said Kendra Rhoden, a daughter of victim Kenneth Rhoden, who is another son of Geneva Rhoden. "I want answers. But If I lose hope, there won't be anything else for me to be honest.
"I can't ever lose hope on seeing the horrible, corrupted people who did this to my family be brought to justice," she said.
'SIX DAYS, SIX MONTHS, TWO YEARS OR FIVE YEARS?'
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine both said from the start the investigation would take time. They've asked for the family and public’s patience as scores of criminologists, computer analysts, crime scene experts and investigators have gathered evidence and worked to answer two seemingly basic questions: Who would want eight people dead, and why?
Reader remains convinced the team will solve the case.
“My main focus is to protect the integrity of the case ... to bring forward a packet of information to the prosecutor so we can successfully prosecute the people responsible for this horrific act,” Reader said. “Can I tell you that will be in six days, six months, two years or five years? I can’t tell you that.”
Killed were: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37; their children Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20, Hanna Rhoden, 19, and Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Frankie Rhoden's fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and a cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38.
Authorities called the slayings well-planned executions, with the killer or killers taking pains to cover their tracks. Surveillance cameras at the properties were either destroyed or taken. Thirty-two shots were fired, but investigators will not discuss if the killers took the shell casings or if they found any bullet fragments. Nor will they discuss if they know the types of weapons used.
A look at the relationships between the victims of the Pike County, Ohio, shootings. The Enquirer/Mike Nyerges
Kendra Rhoden wonders if the loaded gun her dad kept near his head while he slept was also taken. She also doesn’t understand why her light-sleeping father wasn’t startled awake before he was shot once in the right eye. To her, that indicates he must have known or trusted his killer.
While police have released little, they have said they found three marijuana grow operations at two of the scenes, leading some to speculate drugs were the motive and organized criminals the perpetrators. Some family members said they knew grow operations were on the properties of Christopher Rhoden Sr. and Kenneth Rhoden. Others say they knew nothing of the grow sites. But they tend to doubt marijuana was the motive, or that strangers killed their family.
If that were the case, they ask, why were dogs left alive at Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s trailer? His two dogs, a pitbull named Chance, and a boxer named Paisley, were found outside his trailer the morning of April 22. Kenneth Rhoden’s dog, a pit-terrier mix named Brownie, was alive and well when a cousin and his son found Kenneth Rhoden lying dead on his back in his bed, hours after the first seven victims had been found on Union Hill Road, several miles away.
And another haunting question nags surviving relatives, too: If members of a drug cartel pulled the trigger, why did they leave the children unharmed? Wouldn't they kill everyone?
LIVING WITH FEAR, COPING WITH LOSS
That leads to speculation the killer is walking among them. Family members, not to mention the police, are convinced someone knows more than they are saying.
And that weighs heavily on the extended family, many of whom still can’t sleep and find themselves looking at people with suspicion.
Stacie Rigsby, Kenneth Rhoden’s former wife and Kendra Rhoden’s mother, has changed the locks on her doors, made adjustments to secure her windows and often asks a friend to spend the night with her. She is convinced damage done to her mailbox in early May is tied to the killings. Two weeks later, the family reported a masked man on the property who ran off, according to police reports.
Authorities investigated the incidents. They called each a coincidence. You can’t convince Rigsby of that.
Also in May, Geneva Rhoden came home to find her apartment door tampered with, according to a police report. No one had gotten into the apartment.
That did little, however, to assuage her surviving children.
A NEW NORMAL IN PIKE COUNTY
Geneva Rhoden's children check on her daily. Tony Rhoden took her to the gravesites on Memorial Day. There was no headstone yet to mark the graves of the five-member nuclear family at the core of the killings: Christopher Rhoden Sr., Dana Rhoden and their three children.
Tony Rhoden and his sole surviving brother, Brady Rhoden, are among those taking care of the acres of properties where the trailers once stood. It is land his father worked his entire life to buy, land his children inherited. The brothers went up a couple times a week in the spring to keep it mowed, but as spring has given way to a scorching summer, the mowing has become less frequent.
A 400-pound pig and chickens have been sold. The family's 14 dogs and puppies have been given away to family members. Kendra Rhoden, who recently moved out of state, has Brownie. Paisley, the boxer, is living with Brentley Rhoden, the 3-year-old son of Frankie Rhoden, and his mom, said his grandmother Samantha Robinson.
"She's exactly where she needs to be," Robinson said of Paisley. "She's a nice addition to the family.''
The toddler, who was in the trailer when his father was killed, has not seen his little brother Ruger since April. And that, too, breaks this family's heart. Out here, they remind you, family means everything.
Once a Rhoden, always a Rhoden, they say.
For Leonard Manley, Father’s Day has been the hardest. His daughter, Dana Rhoden, always came around and made his day special. He visited her grave this year instead.
That June day was tough, too, for Kendra Rhoden. But July 4 also stung. There were no fireworks and no cookout on her uncle Chris' property. No laughter and no family high jinks.
September is nearly around the corner. It’s the month when the Rhoden family traditionally has gathered.
“My sister asked me the other day if we are going to have the reunion,’’ Tony Rhoden said. “I hadn’t even thought of it.
“And I don’t have an answer.”