Accused killer 'bullied way through life'

Last updated 11:41 25/02/2014
Cherie Lash Rhoades
SHOCKED A TOWN: Cherie Lash Rhoades was known as a bully. But nobody expected her to start a massacre.

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Practically everyone in this tiny town in the high desert of northeastern California's Surprise Valley knew Cherie Lash Rhoades.

A leader of the Cedarville Rancheria, she worked at the tribe's petrol station and convenience store and wore brightly coloured tank tops that showed off her tattoos.

But it is tough to find anyone with a kind word to say about her.

"She bullied her way through life," said Sandra Parriott, a lifelong resident of Cedarville and owner of two downtown markets.

"But I would never think she would start blowing people away in a meeting."

What happened when Rhoades was called before the tribal council last week to face embezzlement charges and possible eviction from the rancheria has stunned the community.

Police say that at Thursday's hearing (local time), Rhoades, 44, pulled out a gun and opened fire, then grabbed a butcher's knife and continued on a bloody rampage. Four people were killed, including her brother, 19-year-old niece, 30-year-old nephew and the tribal administrator. Two others remain in hospital in serious conditions.

Rhoades faces charges of murder, attempted murder and child endangerment.

Eviction from tribal housing is among the most serious punishments for American Indians.

Though police have said they are still working on a motive, a nephew who lived with her, Jacob Penn, said she snapped under the pressure of her brother trying to evict her.

That brother, Rurik Davis, who lived down the street on the rancheria, had apparently taken over as tribal chairman. He was among the dead.

Rhoades has yet to appear in court.

Her father, Larry Lash, declined to comment.

Penn, who lived with Rhoades and was raised by her after her sister gave him up as a child, had little to say but a shrug of the shoulders about his aunt, whom he called, "my mum". He said two of the dead were his brother and sister, Rhoades' nephew and niece.

Most of the 35 registered members of the rancheria appear to have been related to Rhoades.

Parriott ticked off 20 people on her fingers she knew were relatives of Rhoades.

Parriott said her late mother had known Rhoades' late mother, Virginia Sweeney, who lived in town as a child, but not on the rancheria. Rhoades came back about 20 years ago with her young son, mother and brother, Davis, and worked her way into leadership of the tribe.

Parriott said Rhoades "was always loud. She kept pushing and ploughing to get her way".

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"I sure wouldn't have wanted to be her neighbour," Parriott added.

"She took pretty good care of her kid, but I don't know that she had any friends.

"She had family, but family aren't always your friends."

Davis was easy to get along with, Parriott said.

Investigators had been looking into whether Rhoades took federal grant money meant for the rancheria she once led, a person familiar with the tribe's situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Alturas police chief Ken Barnes said they were looking into whether the embezzlement allegations spurred the tribe's efforts to evict Rhoades but they had not established any definitive motive.

A federal Bureau of Indian Affairs official said there were about 18 adults at the meeting and some children.

A blood-covered woman who escaped the shooting was an office worker whom police have declined to identify.

"This came as a complete shock to everyone in the tribe," said Jack Duran, who serves as the tribe's general counsel. "All of these folks are related."

Cedarville Rancheria is a small, federally recognised tribe of 35 people, most of whom live on its 10.5-hectare reservation. It is one of several tribes that fall under the umbrella of Northern Paiutes, whose territory includes parts of California, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho.

"The interesting thing about this tribe is that they got along very well with both communities - Cedarville and Alturas," Duran said.

"It's one of the only tribes where you have some sort of harmony. "

But Rhoades was known for her bullying.

In Cedarville, she was the only tribal member not welcome at the Country Hearth Restaurant and Bakery, said Janet Irene, owner of the restaurant.

"She was forceful. She was a loudmouth," Irene said.

"She would threaten to beat people up all the time."

Irene never worried about the repercussions of booting her out. The soft-spoken Georgia native has a .40-calibre handgun behind the counter and a 10-gauge shotgun hanging on the wall.

Cedarville is a small town of about 1500 people in the Great Basin, where the Paiute people once roamed with the skills to live in hard country. Now there are cattle on the range. The town is tucked between the foothills of the snow-capped Warner Mountains to the west, and a string of alkali lakes to the east.

- AP, MCT

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