Cedarville, Calif. — Cherie Lash Rhoades’ temper was well known among the many small Indian tribes settled in Modoc County, tribal members say.
One man said he started avoiding Rhoades after witnessing an outburst years ago when the two served on a committee for a Native American healthcare clinic.
"Something didn't go her way, so she picked up the corner of the table and threw it," said Sonny Craig, a member of the Pit River tribe just outside Alturas.
Even within her tiny Cedarville Rancheria tribe, Rhoades could be confrontational, a member of the tribe said.
But 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, Rhoades, 44, pulled out a gun and opened fire, then grabbed a butcher 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 hospitalized in serious condition.
Rhoades faces charges of murder, attempted murder and child endangerment.
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 recognized tribe of 35 people, most of whom live on its 26-acre reservation. It is one of a number of tribes that fall under the umbrella of Northern Paiutes, whose territory includes parts of California, Oregon, Nevada and Idaho.
A member of a nearby tribe said Rhoades had been suspected of embezzling money at the rancheria. Representatives for the FBI and the U.S. attorney with jurisdiction over the region declined to comment. Duran would say only that Rhoades was being investigated for alleged improprieties.
He said tribal members received a portion of casino proceeds from outside tribes with casinos, but that Cedarville Rancheria did not operate a casino. The rancheria owns a gas station and store on the road into the town of Cedarville, which provides members with additional income. The headquarters, where the shooting took place, is 20 miles away in Alturas.
"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-caliber handgun behind the counter and a 10-gauge shotgun hanging on the wall.
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