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Police: Dispute between suspected shooter, victim

Thursday - 4/25/2013, 3:23pm  ET

Illinois State Police Lt. Col. Todd Kilby briefs the media gathered in Manchester, Ill., after five people were found shot to death at a house early Wednesday, April 24, 2013. Authorities said the suspect died after a car chase and an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement. (AP Photo/Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Maria Nagle)

REGINA GARCIA CANO
Associated Press

MANCHESTER, Ill. (AP) -- The man suspected of storming into a south-central Illinois home and killing five members of the same family had a dispute with one of his alleged victims, but authorities Thursday were trying to determine if it was related to custody of a child.

Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said that investigators had not yet determined the accuracy of media reports that Rick O. Smith was involved with a custody dispute.

"Investigators are going to locations where some of his last known addresses, locations he frequented, talking to family and friends, just kind of backtracking to see what can be pieced together," she said.

The motive is just one of the questions about the slaying that authorities in the small town of Manchester were trying to answer a day after Smith allegedly shot and killed a 1-year-old boy, his 5-year-old brother, their pregnant mother, their father and their great grandmother. Smith, the nephew of Manchester's mayor, was killed by police after he opened fire.

The boys' 6-year-old sister was also shot, but survived. The 43-year-old Smith walked out of the home with her in his arms and handed her to a neighbor before he drove off.

"It doesn't appear it (her shooting) appeared to be deliberate," Bond said. "What his relationship with her, what was his affection for her, we don't know."

A hospital spokeswoman in Springfield said the 6-year-old's condition had been upgraded from serious to fair.

The shootings happened early Wednesday morning in the community of 300 about 50 miles west of Springfield.

"(Smith) forced his way into the back door using some type of heavy pipe," Bond said, then began shooting a shotgun.

The body of 29-year-old James Roy Ralston was found in a hallway, with the bodies of 1-year-old Brantley Ralston, 5-year-old Nolan Ralston in one bedroom. In another room lay Ralston's girlfriend and the boy's mother, 23-year-old Brittney Luark, and her 67-year-old grandmother, Jo Ann Sinclair.

A neighbor who heard the gunshots called police and told them Smith fled in a white sedan. Smith led authorities on a chase to the nearby town of Winchester, where he exchanged gunfire with the officers. Bond said a state trooper who used his motorcycle for cover as he fired back at Smith.

Police said they found a rifle, shotgun and large hunting knife in Smith's car.

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

Manchester Mayor Ronald Drake said he hadn't spoken with his nephew in two years and believed Smith was unemployed. Drake said the last time Smith contacted him was to borrow tools.

The preschool program that Nolan Ralston attended was closed Thursday, and Winchester Community School District Superintendent Dave Roberts said staff was meeting to decide how to broach the subject.

"I am trying to work with staff to get them prepared," he said. "They are very emotional at this point."

Roberts said he also wants to meet with parents Thursday night.

"I would say at least 40 kids knew him, and they're 3,4, 5 years old and that makes it even more difficult," he said.

He said a school psychologist will be at the school on Friday to talk with the children in the classrooms -- including the class of the 6-year-old girl who survived. He said that the girl is the older sister of the two dead boys.

___

Associated Press writers Don Babwin and Jason Keyser in Chicago and David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.


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