Tribe’s leadership ‘pretty much lost’ after Alturas slayings

The Cedarville Rancheria's headquarters in Alturas, Calif., where the tribe's former leader is accused of killing four people, three of whom were her relatives.
(Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)
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ALTURAS, Calif. -- The mayor of the town where a woman allegedly shot and killed four people at an Indian tribal headquarters said Friday that the violence had wiped out most of the tribe’s leaders.

“They pretty much lost their leadership yesterday,” said Alturas Mayor John Dederick, a retired cabinetmaker who lives two blocks from shooting site. The tribe has its headquarters in Alturas, which has a population of 2,800 and is the county seat of Modoc County, but the members live about 20 miles away at their rancheria in Cedarville.

“I think we are all shocked,” Dederick said. “We have seen this happen in other communities in other small towns. I don’t think anyone anticipated something like this here.”


Cherie Lash Rhoades, former chairwoman of the tribe, attended a meeting at the headquarters where tribal members were discussing plans to evict her and her adult son from the rancheria. She opened fire, killing four -- three of whom were her relatives -- and wounding two others, police said.

Alturas Police Chief Ken Barnes said two semi-automatic handguns were recovered from the shooting scene, and he believed all the victims sustained gunshot wounds. He said Rhoades also grabbed a butcher knife from a kitchen at the headquarters and started attacking another tribal member before bystanders pulled her away.

Barnes said the suspect was known to police but had never been arrested. He said she could be “difficult” at times. She spoke to police briefly after her arrest and then asked for a lawyer, Barnes said.

Modoc County Sheriff Mike Poindexter said the dead included Rhoades’ brother, Rurik Davis, 50; her niece, Angel Penn, 19; and her nephew, Glenn Calonicco, 30.

In addition to Rhoades’ relatives, Shelia Lynn Russo, 47, was killed and two people were critically injured, authorities said.

Maddy Arredondo, 24, who works for a nearby sister tribe, said Davis was the current tribal chairman.


“She is pretty outspoken -- assertive and loud,” Arrendondo said of the suspect. “But she seemed normal. I would never have expected her to do something like this.” Arredondo said she last saw Rhoades a month ago at the rancheria gas station, where Rhoades worked.

Heather MacDonnell, the Alturas city treasurer and finance director, said she was at her desk at City Hall Thursday afternoon when a blood-spattered woman burst in and screamed for help.

“She said there was a woman shooting everybody,” MacDonnell said. “She had so much blood on her. Someone was shot right next to her.”

The Cedarville Rancheria headquarters is behind the town’s small City Hall. The woman who escaped and ran for help was a member of the office staff. Authorities were not identifying her by name.

“She was the hero of the day,” MacDonnell said.

MacDonnell and another city employee raced down the hall to alert police. When the officers arrived at the tribal headquarters, Rhoades had run out of bullets and was brandishing a large knife, police said.

“She had fired all the ammunition she had on her own,” MacDonnell said. “She was taken down.”


The town of Alturas was established as a cattle town in the 1800s. Most residents are now employed by the local, state or federal government, including the U.S. Forest Service. Valleys and hills surrounding the city are filled with grazing cattle and fields of alfalfa and wild rice.

Alturas’ motto is “Where the West still lives.”

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Willon reported from Alturas, Dolan from San Francisco, Gold from Los Angeles