Police: Custody Battle Was Motivation Behind Murders

Five people shot dead on April 24 in Manchester, Ill.

By Amanda Bonafiglia
|  Friday, May 3, 2013  |  Updated 10:42 PM CDT
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Police: Custody Battle Was Motivation Behind Murders

Associated Press / Illinois State Police

Illinois State Police said they believe Rick O. Smith, 43, entered the Manchester, Ill., home and shot five people at close range.

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Investigators believe the slaying of five family members in Manchester last month was the result of a custody battle.

Illinois State Police officials said Rick Odell Smith, the nephew of a small-town Illinois mayor, shot and killed five people on April 24 because he thought the family was interfering in his dispute with the mother of his 3-year-old daughter.

Police believe Smith entered the home through the back door and shot James Roy Ralston and Brittney Luark, their children -- 5-year-old Nolan Ralston and 1-year-old Brantley Ralston -- and Luark's grandmother, Jo Ann Sinclair, at close range. Brittney was pregnant at the time of the shooting, but the fetus didn’t survive.

The couple’s daughter, Kassidy, 6, was also shot but survived the shooting. Witnesses say Smith carried the girl to a neighbor before fleeing.

A bystander called police and told them that Smith fled the home in a white sedan. A car chase ensued, leading authorities to the nearby town of Winchester, where Smith and officers exchanged gunfire. Officers shot Smith, and he later died at a hospital. Police said they found a rifle, shotgun and large hunting knife in Smith's car.

The mother and Smith’s daughter live at a separate address and weren’t harmed in the shooting.

Police say they determined Smith’s motive based on statements from family members and acquaintances.

Scott County State's Attorney Michael Hill said Smith, of rural Morgan County, had previous convictions for reckless homicide, drugs and bad checks.

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