World

Ohio shooting victims gunned down 'execution style'

Eight members of a family, including a mother sleeping in a bed with her four-day-old baby next to her, were fatally shot in the head on Friday, leaving their rural town terrified and reeling while a manhunt was launched for the person or persons responsible.

8 members of the same family slain

An aerial view shows one of the crime scenes being investigated in Pike County, Ohio, after several people were found dead Friday at four locations. (Lisa Marie Miller/Columbus Dispatch via Associated Press)

Eight members of a family, including a mother sleeping in a bed with her four-day-old baby next to her, were fatally shot in the head on Friday, leaving their rural town terrified and reeling while a manhunt was launched for the person or persons responsible.

Three children, including the newborn, survived the grisly killings that left seven adults and a 16-year-old boy dead in four homes in Pike County, said Attorney General Mike DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader at an afternoon news conference. The economically distressed county in the Appalachian Mountain region has some 28,000 residents and is roughly 130 kilometres east of Cincinnati.

DeWine said there were no indications that any of the dead killed themselves, and Reader said if the shooter or shooters are at large, they should be considered armed and "extremely dangerous."

DeWine said, "There may be more than one, there may be three. We just don't know at this point."

Pike County is an economically struggling area in the Appalachian region, about 130 kilometres east of Cincinnati. (CBC)

Some of the victims were in bed, indicating they were shot while they were sleeping, authorities said. The victims were identified as members of the Rhoden family. Authorities said some, not all, were killed in bed.

"It's heartbreaking," DeWine said. "The one mom was killed in her bed with the four-day-old right there."

Law enforcement officials said they met with relatives of the victims at a church on Friday night and death notifications were being made to other relatives. They said more than 30 people had been interviewed as part of their investigation.

A motive isn't clear, authorities said, but they urged other members of the Rhoden family to take precautions, and Reader advised all residents to stay inside and lock their doors Friday night.

"This really is a question of public safety, and particularly for any of the Rhoden family," DeWine said.

The first three homes where bodies were found are within a few kilometres of one another on a sparsely populated stretch of road, while the eighth body — a man — was found in a house within 50 kilometres, the sheriff said.

The other surviving children were six months old and three years old, authorities said. Reader wouldn't say where they were taken Friday.

Authorities didn't release any information on whether there were multiple weapons used or whether anything was missing from the homes.

Police on Friday closed down Union Hill Road in Pike County while they investigated the shootings. (Chris Russell/Columbus Dispatch/Associated Press)

Goldie Hilderbran, 65, said she lives about a mile from where she has been told the shootings took place.

"I first heard about it this morning from our mail carrier," Hilderbran said.

Hilderbran said the mail carrier told her deputies had stopped her from delivering mail in the area they had blocked off.

"She just told me she knew something really bad has happened," Hilderbran said.

Gov. John Kasich was in Connecticut on Friday for his Republican presidential campaign. He says "when people like that die and people bleed, we all do, all over the country." He says authorities will catch the killers and bring them to justice.

Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a town hall at Penn State Brandywine Campus on Thursday. 'Reports we are receiving from Peebles are tragic beyond comprehension,' Kasich tweeted. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

The FBI in Cincinnati also said it was closely monitoring the situation and has offered assistance to the Pike County sheriff's office if needed.

Peebles High School imposed a precautionary lockout Friday morning after authorities notified the superintendent of shootings that had occurred a few miles away, according to Regina Bennington, secretary to the superintendent for the Adams County Ohio Valley Schools district.

High school officials said the school was back to normal operations later Friday morning.

Piketon is the site of a Cold War-era uranium plant that was closed in 2001 and is still being cleaned up.