Two men have been arrested in connection with the New Year’s Eve shooting deaths of a Barberton father and his two teenage children.
Michael Deon Hendon, 22, and Eric Donta Hendon, 30, both of Akron, were arrested Friday on three counts each of aggravated murder.
Additional charges, including a potential death penalty specification indictment, will be considered when the case is reviewed later this month by a Summit County grand jury.
The arrests came on the same day that John Kohler, the Barberton father whose home was targeted by armed robbers on New Year’s Eve, died of apparent gunshot wounds.
He was shot in the home invasion burglary that also claimed the life of his 18-year-old stepdaughter, Ashley Carpenter, and his son, David Kohler Carpenter, 14.
Kohler’s girlfriend, Ronda Blankenship, 38, survived the shooting and is recovering at an area hospital.
Barberton police say “information and evidence collected” from inside Kohler’s Seventh Street Northeast house led to the arrest of the Hendon brothers. A spokesman for the department could not elaborate on the evidence.
Police say the Hendon brothers targeted Kohler’s home to rob the man of drugs and money. They did not elaborate.
In a news release, they said Eric Hendon was paroled from prison in June after serving about 13 years for sexual battery and attempted murder.
Detectives have not said what caused the suspects to shoot all four people inside.
Autopsies this week showed that Ashley died of a single gunshot wound to the head. Her brother, David, died of multiple gunshot wounds to the head. He also suffered defensive wounds to his arms, reports show. They were found together in a back bedroom.
An autopsy is scheduled to be performed Monday on the body of David Kohler.
Meanwhile, Leiha Carpenter, the mother of the teens, said she is struggling to find an appropriate site large enough to hold funeral services for the popular Barberton school students.
Scores of friends and family members gathered in 10-degree weather Friday night at the Lake Anna gazebo in downtown Barberton for a candlelight vigil to honor the four shooting victims.
Some arrived an hour before the start of the vigil.
Brittany Burchett, 18, traveled from Parma to take part in the vigil.
She said she had known Ashley since eighth grade and they often ate lunch together. Brittany transferred to Parma High School two months ago.
“Everybody is just shocked because it just came out of the blue,” she said. “She was just one of the nicest people I have ever met.”
Kim O’Brien, of Norton, works with the aunt of the slain teenagers. She said she wanted to show her support for the family.
“It’s really so sad,” she said. “It’s just senseless.”
Many of the crowd of more than 300 held candles to remember the victims.
Ashley and David lived with their mother in Barberton, but frequently spent weekends with Kohler at his home.
Arrests are welcome
Carpenter said she learned of the arrest around the time that the children’s father was being removed from life support.
“I don’t even know how to feel right now,” she said in a brief phone interview before the vigil. “I just thank God for [the arrests].”
Neighbor and close friend Haleina Pouncey, who is serving as a spokeswoman for the Carpenter family, said the community response to the crisis has been overwhelming.
An online fund — http://www.gofundme.com/5zvxbs — created to help the family with funeral expenses had raised $3,000 as of Friday night.
“This house has been nonstop for days,” Pouncey said.
She said Leiha Carpenter has slept little since learning her two children were killed.
“She’s coping. She’s trying. It’s difficult obviously. She’s barely slept. She cries all the time,” Pouncey said.
Convicted in attack
Michael Hendon has no felony arrest history in Summit County.
In a 2011 letter seeking an early release from a 13-year prison sentence, Eric Hendon wrote that he was remorseful for his attack on the woman.
He was 17 years old when he was convicted in 2000 of attempted aggravated murder and sexual battery. Akron police at the time said Hendon and another teen, who was also convicted, lured the woman behind a building at Cole Avenue and Marcy Street and repeatedly raped the woman before shooting her between the legs.
Hendon was also accused of two other robberies and another shooting, both of which also occurred that year.
He said he was “a youth at the time of the offense” and had “grown since into a young man, who has in fact seen the errors of his ways and realized that he was the only one who could and would change his life around to become a positive force for himself as well as society as a whole.”
Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer declined his release, citing his poor prison record and lack of eligibility for early release. He completed his sentence in June and was released.
The connection between the Hendon brothers and Kohler is still not clear.
Kohler was the father of David and acted as a stepfather for about 10 years to Ashley, a Barberton High senior and a member of the school’s marching band.
Daniel Stephens, Ashley’s biological father and a longtime friend of Kohler, said he and the family are devastated by the shooting that has gripped Barberton since the new year.
Stephens said his daughter was bright, musically gifted and lovingly attentive to her younger brother.
“Ashley was crazy about her little brother,” Stephens said.
Stephens said he and Kohler were best friends since before their days at Barberton High where they both played football for the Magic. He said Ashley lived with Kohler and Leiha Carpenter for 10 to 12 years and called him her father as well.
“I feel so bad for Leiha that she’s lost both of her babies,” Stephens said. “I’m not the father of the year or nothing like that, but I loved my daughter very much.”