‘It’s devastating’: Downstate official after nephew kills 5
BY ZACH BUCHHEIT Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org April 24, 2013 9:26AM
Updated: May 28, 2013 7:45PM
MANCHESTER, Ill. — Armed with a shotgun, a rifle and a hunting knife, the nephew of the village president of a small Downstate town burst into a home there Wednesday morning and began shooting at close range.
By the time the early morning rampage had ended, Rick Odell Smith, 43, had killed a grandmother, a young couple and two small children and seriously wounded a 6-year-old girl.
Then, in an equally inexplicable act, he carried the bleeding girl to a neighbor’s home and then sped off in his white Chevy Lumina. Police chased him on back roads to a nearby town and he was killed in a shootout, authorities said.
The slayings rocked Manchester, about 50 miles southwest of Springfield in southwestern Illinois.
The grisly tale laid out by police in this tiny town of 300 — a place where the mayor and residents couldn’t remember a murder in decades and that lacks even a stoplight — was missing one important detail: Why?
“It’s devastating, simply devastating,” said Smith’s uncle, Manchester Village President Ron Drake.
Drake said he wasn’t aware of any relations between his nephew, who was from Roodhouse, a few miles from Manchester, and the slain family. But authorities described Smith as an “acquaintance” of the victims. Police declined to offer any reasons for the slayings because the investigation was ongoing.
Asked what could have prompted Smith to kill the family, Drake said, “I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t talked to Rick in two years.”
Smith’s victims were identified as Joanne Sinclair, 67; her granddaughter, Brittany Luark, 23; Luark’s boyfriend, Roy Ralston, 29; 1-year-old Brantley Ralston, and a 5-year-old boy, whose name could not be confirmed, a law enforcement source said on condition of anonymity. The 6-year-old girl was shot several times but survived the attack and was listed in serious condition at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. Two bodies were found in one bedroom, two in another bedroom and Ralston was found in a hallway, authorities said. Authorities would not publicly identify the family members Wednesday.
When police caught up with Smith, he got out of his car, pointed a gun at them and began firing. Police returned fire, hitting Smith, who was taken into custody at 7:27 a.m., Illinois State Police Lt. Col. Todd Kilby said. He was taken to St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, where he was pronounced dead.
A shotgun, a scoped rifle and a hunting knife, all of which appeared to belong to Smith, were recovered in the victims’ home, Kilby said. He wouldn’t say whether Smith had obtained the weapons legally.
Smith had a criminal history that included a DUI-related reckless homicide conviction and convictions for writing bad checks and possessing drug paraphernalia, Scott County State’s Attorney Michael Hill said.
Drake said he thought Smith was unemployed.
Manchester Village Clerk Peggy Renner, 62, who lives down a block from the murder scene, said Brittany Luark, one of the victims, told her recently that she was pregnant but did not say who the father was.
Renner said the family moved to the town during the past year to 18 months. They attended a back-to-school bash at the Manchester Baptist Church just before school started in 2012.
“They seemed to be real nice, but they stayed to themselves,” Renner said. Brittany “didn’t say too much, but when you talked to her, she was quiet. They all just stayed to themselves.”
Renner also said there had been police activity at the home on Sunday but she didn’t know the nature of the disturbance.
Sandra Grubb, who has lived with her farm family in Manchester since 1966, said her children attended school with Smith and that he had shown flashes of violence before. She said her daughter, now a principal at a school south of Springfield, was struck in the head with a baseball bat by Smith when they were in grade school.
Grubb said Smith and a brother were adopted and appeared to have been “severely neglected” before being taken in by his adoptive parents.
“The one boy had a pair of shoes that were probably two sizes two small for him, and his toes were practically bent over. One or the other — I don’t remember which one it was — but they were very severely neglected before they got to Manchester,” Grubb said. “They were just part of the community, had a mom and dad that loved them and tried to do the best for them.”
Roughly 250 miles southwest of Chicago, Manchester is a mostly rural, all-white town of about 300 people. The average annual income is about $24,000, with 7 percent of residents living below the poverty line. With no major establishments save a small general store, post office, city hall and two churches, Manchester maintains farming as its mainstay. Its residents travel to larger nearby towns for gas or groceries and to drop off their children at school.
The magnitude of the violence on Wednesday was a jolt to the small town, where everyone seems to knows everyone else’s business, and guns have always been used to hunt and kill deer and other game — not people.
“People that have lived in this community, they’ve never seen anything like this,” said the Rev. Robin Lyons, pastor of Manchester United Methodist Church, which Smith’s grandmother attends. “This is really a tragedy.”
“You take hurt and disillusionment and anger and any kind of instability and mix them all together, it’s a perfect storm,” he said.
Contributing: Dave McKinney