WEST PORTSMOUTH, Ohio — Scott Davis will fuss over them, one by one, before the Rhoden family arrives.

He will straighten a tie, push a stray hair away from a face, adjust hands. He will run a lint roller over the clothing one last time. Then he will pat the chest, ever so gently. And move on to the next casket.

And the next. And the next.

Davis and his wife, Leichia, have spent nearly a week with six of the eight victims of the Rhoden family slaying. It is their job to make sure the living are able to grieve and say goodbye before the bodies are lowered into graves just seven miles down the road.

 

"I will look at every detail, from head to toe; from socks to boots to shoes,'' he said at the Roger W. Davis Funeral Home, which his dad started 52 years ago in West Portsmouth.

"The last time they saw them, they were alive," Davis said. "We can't make them look like that. But we can, and we will, make them look as nice as possible."

'Hurts my heart'

He knows Geneva Rhoden, who will bury two of her sons, three of her grandchildren and a daughter-in-law Tuesday. His family has buried her family before. This is his calling, to comfort and console families during their most painful of days. Still, this has not been easy.

“Mrs. Rhoden, Geneva, that hurts my heart," Davis said, looking away and sliding his right hand under the lapel of his suit jacket and patting his chest. “Oh, that hurt, that hurt, that hurt.”

He pauses, cautious about discussing his pain. It is nothing. It is incomparable to the river of sorrow each family member is going through.

 

“I thought I had seen everything," Davis said. He serves on state and federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams. “But on an individual basis, this is pretty devastating.

 

“It’s different. It’s personal. You know the people," he said. “In a mass fatality like 9/11 or a plane crash, it’s terrible, it’s horrible. But you do the job; you are able to keep the personal at an arm’s length.”

Here, his arms have encircled Geneva Rhoden. He has felt her sobs. And he has kept trying to comfort the 78-year-old family matriarch as the family has gone through the process of making arrangements, talking through what seems like endless details including writing the obituaries.

He has cried with her. More tears, he says, than he has shed in a very long time. There have been times he hasn’t been able to muster any words.

Sometimes, good funeral directors know, it’s simply about being there.

 

'Getting the family through this'

It was Geneva Rhoden and her daughter, Wilma, who called him nine days ago, asking if he would help with the arrangements and the services. He didn’t think twice. He didn’t blink an eye about the logistics of a six-person visitation and service, which has meant calling on many of his friends and colleagues for help. Dozens of volunteers have offered their time, vehicles and services. He’s accepted all their offers.

 

He hasn't read much about the investigation, the rumors or the speculation. He knows, as most everyone does around here, there hasn't been an arrest in the country's largest mass murder to date in 2016. He knows first hand of their injuries, but that's not for him to talk about. He just looks down and shakes his head.

"I have blocked out all the negativity to focus on the Rhoden family,'' he said. "We are strictly worried about getting the family through this. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, you still have a mother who has lost two sons and three grandchildren.

"I have a job to do and I focus on it,'' he continued, "not the who, what, where, when and how."

Six caskets, 36 pallbearers

Instead, he's been on the phone with his colleagues and vendors, seeking discounts to help defray some of the cost that will surely be in the tens of thousands of dollars. He knows the family doesn't have a lot and he's hopeful community donations will help pay for a portion of the funerals. He says he wishes he could donate the funerals. But this is a family operation, and he has to cover his costs.

 

He has bought six vaults and six caskets and he will rent six black hearses. They will carry each of the Rhoden family members — Christopher Sr., 40; his former wife, Dana, 37; his brother, Kenneth, 44; and his three children, Clarence "Frankie,'' 20, Hanna, 19, and Chris Jr., 16.

The other two people killed April 22 — cousin Gary Rhoden, 38, and Clarence's fiancee Hannah Gilley, 20 — were laid to rest in separate services last week.

For the visitation and the funeral, community members will donate time to help with crowd and traffic control. Several business owners have offered their vans or other vehicles to transport flowers and volunteers from the funeral home to Dry Run Church of Christ for the noon Tuesday service. One minister will lead the service. Five will be buried in one cemetery.

 

Davis is not sure who will make up the 36 pallbearers needed to carry all the caskets. But these are large families with dozens of relatives. It's one detail he doesn't have to worry about.

But before he opens the doors, he will put on his glasses and summon his wife.

To make sure he's got everything just right.

One last time.

Follow Chris Graves on Twitter: @chrisgraves 

 

 

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