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Custody dispute may be linked to killing of 5 in Downstate family

Rick Odell Smith 43 was killed by police shootout Wednesday morning after he fatally shot five people injured 6-year-old girl

Rick Odell Smith, 43, was killed by police in a shootout Wednesday morning after he fatally shot five people and injured a 6-year-old girl at a home in Downtate Manchester, authorities said.

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Updated: May 29, 2013 7:08AM

SPRINGFIELD — A possible child-custody dispute may have factored into Wednesday’s mass killings in Downstate Manchester, neighbors and sources close to the criminal investigation confirmed Thursday.

The death toll from the slayings also grew to six when authorities revealed Thursday that one of the victims, 23-year-old Brittany Luark, was pregnant when she was murdered by suspected gunman Rick Odell Smith during the early-morning rampage.

Smith, who died from injuries suffered in a shootout with police after the murders, had a lengthy relationship with Luark’s aunt, and the two had a four-year-old daughter together, a neighbor on Thursday told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Neither the aunt nor the girl were in the apartment when Smith used a shotgun to kill Luark and other members of her family, including her boyfriend, their two children, their unborn and Luark’s grandmother.

“One of the victims was pregnant so we are classifying that as a sixth homicide,” Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said, adding that the identity of the baby’s father had not been established.

But a long-time resident who lives directly across the street from the family said Luark told her that James Roy Ralston, one of the six murder victims, was the father of all of Luark’s children, including the unborn child.

The neighbor, Shirley Cooper, 78, sometimes looked after two of Luark’s children and said she thought Luark had expected to find out this week whether her baby would be a boy or girl.

Bond also was not clear how far Luark was into her pregnancy. Manchester Village Clerk Peggy Renner, an acquaintance of Luark’s, said Luark told her she was four months pregnant.

The Scott County coroner’s office Thursday released the names, ages and relationships of Smith’s victims, but complete autopsy results showing the nature of their fatal injuries were not available.

Among the dead were Jo Ann Sinclair, 67, who was Brittany Luark’s grandmother; Ralston, 29; Luark; and two of their children, Nolan J. Ralston, 5, and Brantley Ralston, 1, the State Police said Thursday.

A six-year-old child of Ralston and Luark remained hospitalized in Springfield, but her condition was upgraded from serious to fair on Thursday, said Brian Reardon, a spokesman for St. John’s Hospital.

It was unclear whether Smith had any mental-health disorders. It also was uncertain whether he had legally obtained a shotgun used in the killings or a rifle with a scope that also was found at the crime.

“That’s still being investigated,” Bond said.

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