Two weeks ago, Charlie Reader wasn’t a household name, at least not beyond the borders of Pike County and surrounding southern Ohio communities. Following the murders of eight members of the Rhoden family on April 22, Reader has been catapulted into the state, national, and world-wide scene as media have endlessly broadcast press conferences, human interest stories, and old-fashioned “who done it” style reports about the tragedy which rocked the area and brought unexpected attention to our corner of the world and its people.
Reader, who was sworn in as the 41st Pike County Sheriff in May 2015, says that while he has found minimal moments of rest throughout the investigation, he finds strength in the prayers and support of friends, family, and the community throughout the lengthy ordeal.
“When something like this happens that affects people to the degree of complete devastation, I feel that, too,” said Reader. “I’m not aware that something like this has happened ever in Ohio, and there certainly is no booklet to guide you in what to do when you’re faced with something like this. This has been unimaginable, and at the end of the day, we are all human and it is all transferable, from the things we have to see and the things we have to do as law enforcement officers. We move on and try to find who is responsible for this, and we all have jobs to do, but at the end of the day, we are all humans and it affects us.”
Reader says that when he thinks of the family of the victims, he “hurts with them.”
“You grieve with them. You’re mad with them. You’re confused and left asking ‘Why is this happening?’ When you live and work in a community this small, everyone is basically family, and it is our job to come together and unite again, not only in support of whatever family may be affected by any tragic event,” he said. “We get to work to answer the ‘why.’ Sometimes that is a task that is a very heavy load. But the community’s support makes my life as sheriff bearable in times like these.”
A Stockdale Elementary School alumnus, Reader grew up on Germany Road in eastern Pike County, the youngest of four children.
“I was one of the many kids who helped Mr. Brown put a flag on the flapole and lift it each day at Stockdale Elementary,” Reader recalls. “Mom was a stay-at-home mom who took care of the kids, did all the cooking and cleaning, and the laundry. Dad worked very hard and we didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of love, good neighbors, and friends in a day when you didn’t have to lock the door at night. It was a different time.”
Reader attended Beaver Junior High and graduated from Waverly High School.
“At the end of my eighth grade year, my parents moved us to Waverly,” said Reader. “My wife, Ramona, attended Piketon High School, so I got to meet and get to know a lot of people in Piketon. In my 42 years of living in this county, I’ve established that I have great friends and neighbors, and I have family. I grew up here and truly care about all of the citizens, and I mean it when I say that everyone is my friend or my family.”
Neil Leist, Eastern Local Schools superintendent, knew Reader when he was a student in Beaver, and says that he believes he was shaped by his “strong family upbringing.”
“I had Charlie and all his brothers and sisters in class when they went to Eastern,” said Leist. “They came from a very hardworking family and were some of the most polite and respectful students at our school. You could tell they were raised properly by their parents, and I believe that he has become the person he is today due to his strong family upbringing. As superintendent, I have called him on a few situations, and he has sent a deputy immediately. In school, he would always say ‘Yes sir’ and “Yes m’aam’ — a lost habit among our youth. He was also a great athlete.”
Willie Hobbs, of Waverly, taught Reader and and coached him while he was a student at Waverly High School, and says he has always been “a hard worker.”
“I’ve known Charlie and his family for many, many years and can say that he was always a very hard worker. I believe we’re seeing that same work ethic now that he is the Pike County Sheriff,” said Hobbs. “He displays a great commitment to his job and the citizens of this county and has conducted himself as a professional in this situation, and it makes all of us affiliated with Waverly High School feel good and we are extremely proud of the job he is doing for all of the citizens of Pike County.”
Pike County Commissioner Blaine Beekman also taught Reader at Waverly High School, and says that he “always had a basic determination to finish whatever he started.”
“Everyone has this, but Charlie has it to a greater degree than most anyone, and you see that now that he is working 20 hours a day, as he has been for the past two weeks,” said Beekman. “Once you meet him, you just understand that he is going to go to whatever length necessary to make sure something gets carried out. I think that has been really critical in this situation. No matter what questions have been thrown at him by the media, he has maintained composure and hasn’t made any mistakes and has kept it all organized, as if this is a reflection of his ability to organize and remain focused. He is very conscious of things and his personality is pretty strong.”
Beekman says he thinks that the media misjudged Reader.
“I think they thought ‘Here’s a guy from a small town who can’t handle the pressure of these press conferences.’ That didn’t turn out to be the truth at all,” said Beekman.”I think there are a lot of people around the country who have watched him and feel that this is the way a small county’s sheriff is supposed to be. I’m really proud of him and my family is proud of him, too, because they feel like he is one of them.”
As a local school administrator, Brock Brewster (Western Local School District superintendent), says he finds great pleasure in showing his students “real world examples of how country kids who grew up on the backroads of Pike County have worked hard, paid their dues, and made it to the top in their respective fields.”
“Those examples give validity to what we spend 13 years trying to sell our kids — that hard work, focus, perseverance, and sacrifice pay off,” said Brewster, who says he has known Reader since the two were in high school together. “I can honestly say that he is one of those success stories that I will use as an example for my students. He has been an invaluable asset to our district in just a short time, and I can’t count the number of times he has stopped in here just to check on things, or the times he has texted me to see if I needed anything. At nearly every opportunity, he has gone far beyond what would be expected from a county sheriff. The way he handled the situation with the student who passed away a few weeks ago, and the help he and his deputies gave the family after their house burnt down was far, far beyond the call of duty.”
Brewster says he feels Reader handles each situation he faces with “the utmost respect, thoroughness, and dignity.”
“I appreciate the care that he has taken to make the kids at Western feel like a vital part of Pike County, and he has made several trips out here to reinforce that. It is always nice to have partners in this adventure, and I feel like Sheriff Reader is our partner here at Western,” said Brewster. “From escorting the basketball team to the county line, to meeting with high schoolers who are trying to plan a fundraiser for a family in distress, he has put our kids on an equal playing field with everyone else, and that goes a long way on these backroads. Maybe he will inspire some of my kids to choose a career in which they sacrifice themselves for the good of others.”
As a child, Reader recalls donning a toy badge and pretending to be a sheriff, a role playing game that would come to fruition in May 2015.
“My dad once told me that if I ever found a job that I’d do for free, I wouldn’t work a day in my life,” said Reader. “To me, this is not a job. It is a calling. I feel that being sheriff is something I was led to do.”
For Reader, law enforcement is in his blood.
“I am proud to have a family history of law enforcement,” said Reader. “My great-uncle Roy Ross served as Pike County Sheriff in the past, and he left a big impression on me. In addition, my late cousin served as a Major for the Pike County Sheriff’s Office. This work is something I am passionate about and feel very strongly about. “
Through the years, Reader has served in various law enforcement roles, starting as a non-certified auxiliary officer. After enrolling in Sheriff Larry Travis’ peace officer training academy in 1996-97, Reader began working full-time as a dispatcher.
“I’ve known Charlie for years, actually before he even got into law enforcement,” said former Pike County Sheriff Larry Travis, who has been assisting Reader during the recent murder investigations, as part of Reader’s Reserve Unit. “Charlie went through my Sheriff’s Academy and worked as my assistant deputy for four years and was working in this capacity when I retired. He was very dedicated to the job and was and is a great investigator who gets along with the employees and the people. In a small community like this, you get to know the people. He is really working hard, especially now.”
According to Travis, Reader has a “love for law enforcement and protecting the citizens of the county.”
“His dedication and work ethic are exceptional. He has been here ever since this case happened and has been at this office, other than the few times he has gotten to get some sleep,” said Travis. “I think he’ll work on this case until it is solved, or at least as far as they can take it.”
After working as Assistant Deputy at the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, Reader began working at the Waverly Police Department with Chief Mike Corwin and later Chief Larry Roe. According to Roe, Reader started off working as a patrolman and quickly moved up the ranks at the Waverly Police Department.
“He got promoted to sergeant and took over the K9 program. Then he was promoted to Lieutenant and was also over investigation for several years,” said Roe. “Charlie is just a natural at law enforcement. He has always been the kind of guy who came in and, once he got started on something, he didn’t stop until he got it solved. He is doing the same thing with this case. In all the years I have known him, Charlie has never slowed down.”
Roe says many times people enter the law enforcement field with a preconceived notion of what to expect in the line of duty.
“A lot of people get into this and have this picture of how it is, and when they get in there, it is not quite the glamorous thing that they thought it was going to be. You always have a select few who go way over, above, and beyond what is expected of them. Charlie is one such person,” said Roe. “He has had a lot of stuff thrown at him that guys who have been in the same position for many years never have, and probably will never have, thrown at them, and I’m really proud of the job he does and his work ethic. It sure is nice to have someone like that to work with because Charlie wants to get out there and work. People in this county are fortunate to have him as their sheriff, and I don’t think anyone in the state of Ohio has a better sheriff than the one we have here. If you watch him, he acts like somebody who has been in this job for years, and I have to say, there has never been a time in this county when law enforcement have worked together as they do now that Charlie is sheriff. He is just about as top-notch as they come, in my book.”
When former Sheriff Richard Henderson was elected in 2008, Reader began working as a Major at the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, a position he held until a position was vacated in the Pike County Prosecutor’s Office. In 2009, Reader helped to start a non-violent, first-time felony offense program which would later come to be known as the Diversion Program. Before becoming sheriff, he also served as the Prosecutor’s Chief Investigator. In this role, Reader says he had the opportunity to work closely with various law enforcement agencies.
“Even while I was Chief Investigator, I worked as a part-time police officer and stayed a commissioned deputy for the Pike County Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “As Chief Investigator, I was also sworn in as a Secret Service agent. From the time I started as a civilian dispatcher to today, I’ve felt led in the direction to serve and protect people in some sort of law enforcement capacity.”
When Reader first began working as Pike County Sheriff, he said he asked local law enforcement agencies to partner with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office in an effort to combat the drug problem and reach out to one another in the community.
“The community has since embraced and supported us, as have a lot of other law enforcement agencies,” said Reader. “My staff is just incredible and does whatever I need them to do, whether that means working 18 hours instead of eight hours, or being assigned to a different location to get the job done ... I believe that we live in a day when people prefer your failure over your success. I think that with the effort and partnerships we have formed between our office and citizens and other law enforcement agencies, success is, more often than not, guaranteed.”
Waverly Fire Chief Randy Armbruster says he feels that Reader has always felt drawn to a life of public service.
“I remember training him in a volunteer firefighter class, and we had a lot of interaction when he worked at the Waverly PD,” said Armbruster. “He is very compassionate to others and is a strong family man who I am proud to call our sheriff and my friend.”
Two decades ago, Reader met his future wife, Ramona, at Sherry’s Riverside Restaurant, in Piketon. The two met when Reader stopped by the restaurant to meet his dad after work.
“We’ve been married for almost 20 years. I understand that Charlie’s job is very stressful and demanding at times. I just try to keep things as normal as possible here at home,” said Ramona. “Our lives are very busy, but we always make time for our family, whenever possible. Charlie loves his job and he is very dedicated to making Pike County a better place to live and raise our kids. I am very proud of the job that Charlie is doing. He, along with his deputies, work hard to keep Pike County a great place to live.”
While Ramona says she worries about Charlie at times, she finds comfort in the fact that he is busy doing the job he loves and has so much support from home and abroad.
“Charlie loves what he does and he wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “Although all of the media coverage has been a little overwhelming, I do greatly appreciate all of the people far and wide who have been keeping Pike County as well as my family in their thoughts and prayers.”
According to Reader, Kathleen Hoeckh, of Waverly, has been like a “second mother” to him throughout his life. According to Hoeckh, Reader has “always been the same.”
“He was a good kid. I first met him when he was in his teens. My son had a business and he worked for him when he was just beginning to develop into the young man that he turned out to be,” said Hoeckh, a retired local teacher. “He takes his responsibilities seriously and always has. I am very thankful for the way he turned out and it was worth all of the time to see how hard he has worked and how steady he has worked to get where he is today. Through it all, he has a ‘take it as it is and do my best with it’ attitude. When he was 15 or 16, we corrected him along the way and gave suggestions, and he always listened and took it all in, quietly accepting correction, eager to learn and eager to do better.”
Hoeckh says she believes that Reader learned lessons from previous experiences and jobs that shaped him into the man he is today.
“He gradually grew up through it all. I am a believer that God puts us in situations to help us to prepare for the next stage of our life, whatever that might be. I think there were a lot of things going on in all his previous jobs that taught him so much and made him better prepared. I just worry about him because I know he is working like crazy, and he is getting to an age where he needs to be a little more careful about the way he is working and the long hours he is putting in. But that’s just grandma kind of talk,” said Hoeckh.
“When he first was put in the position of sheriff, I sent him a note to say that I was proud of him and that we and the county needed him. I had no idea what I was saying because no one would have ever thought that it could have turned out like this. I believe that he is growing through all of this, though, because I am sure he has never experienced anything like this before. I guess this is just another learning phase of his life.”
In the past 11 months since he was sworn in as sheriff, Reader says he has dealt with a lot of tragedy. In the 12 days following the recent shootings, Reader says he has experienced a whirlwind of emotions, feelings that are hard to shut off once he walks through the front door at the end of a long, long day.
“When it is family time, it is hard to shut all that down and sit and watch a movie or sit and talk with my kids. It is tough to maintain that balance of leaving when you need to go rest and be human, and then when you get to the scene, to be ready to get back to work,” said Reader. “But when you get home, you have to try to leave it behind for just a minute to be a husband, a father, a brother, and a son.”
Reader says he feels blessed to be surrounded by a “great family” and an “amazing wife.”
“There are times that, without my wife, I don’t know what I would do. I am blessed to have a family who understands and doesn’t ask where I’ve been or what I’ve had to do when I get home at the end of the day. When I’m home, they are just glad that I’m there,” said Reader. “The one thing this has taught me is that I need to send my guys home to their families, and I need to get home to mine. We have to remember that we are human, too, and we have people at home who need us, love us, and worry about us. When they talk about our community, the one thing the media doesn’t take away from this is that our small community cares for one another, and we always rise to the top. It is that kind of support that gives me the strength to continue on, no matter what, to make sure the job gets done.”