CEDARVILLE, Calif. – Practically everyone in this tiny town in the high desert of northeastern Californias Surprise Valley knew Cherie Lash Rhoades.
A leader of the Cedarville Rancheria, she worked in the tribes gas station and convenience store and wore brightly colored tank tops that showed off her tattoos.
But it is tough to find anyone with a kind word to say about her.
She bullied her way through life, said Sandra Parriott, a lifelong resident of Cedarville and owner of two downtown markets. But I would never think she would start blowing people away in a meeting.
Police arrested Rhoades on suspicion that she did just that Thursday in Alturas, leaving four dead and two wounded in a gun and knife attack at a meeting on whether to evict Rhoades from one of the nine little houses on the rancheria.
Eviction from tribal housing is among the most serious punishments for American Indians.
Though police have said they are still working on a motive, a nephew who lived with her, Jacob Penn, said she snapped under the pressure of her brother trying to evict her.
The brother, Rurik Davis, who lived down the street on the rancheria, had apparently taken over as tribal chairman and was among the dead.
Investigators had been looking into whether Rhoades took federal grant money meant for the rancheria she once led, a person familiar with the tribes situation told The Associated Press.
Alturas Police Chief Ken Barnes said they were looking into whether the embezzlement allegations spurred the tribes efforts to evict Rhoades but had not established any definitive motive.
Though Rhoades was always ready to share a joke, you did not want to get on her bad side, said Penny Nash, Parriotts sister. She has a powerful personality.
It was not immediately known if Rhoades had a lawyer. She was being held at an undisclosed location because the husband of one of the dead, the only nonrelative to be shot, works at the Modoc County Jail, Sheriff Mike Poindexter said.
Rhoades has yet to appear in court. Her father, Larry Lash, declined comment. Penn, who lived with Rhoades and was raised by her after her sister gave him up as a child, had little to offer beyond a shrug of the shoulders about his aunt, whom he called my mom.
He said two of the dead were his brother and sister, Rhoades niece and another nephew.
Most of the 35 registered members of the rancheria appear to have been related to Rhoades.
Parriott said her late mother had known Rhoades late mother, Virginia Sweeney, who lived in town as a child but not on the rancheria. Rhoades came back about 20 years ago with her young son, mother and brother, Davis, and worked her way into leadership of the tribe.
Parriott said Rhoades was always loud. She kept pushing and plowing to get her way.
I sure wouldnt have wanted to be her neighbor, Parriott added. She took pretty good of her kid, but I dont know that she had any friends. She had family, but family arent always your friends.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs sent a team to Alturas on Saturday to provide grief counseling, agency spokeswoman Nedra Darling said.
Cedarville is a small town of about 1,500 in the Great Basin, where the Paiute people once roamed. The town is tucked between the foothills of the snowcapped Warner Mountains to the west and a string of alkali lakes to the east.
The best jobs are working for the Modoc National Forest, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management or the schools. A lumber mill sits rusting and quiet on the edge of town. Downtown has several empty storefronts, but there are cafes, a bank, a library, a bookstore, two small markets and other small businesses.
The rancheria is on the western edge of town, announced by a simple wooden sign. Nine small one-story homes are grouped around a small playground. Streets are paved, edged with new concrete sidewalks. A few blocks away is the Rabbit Traxx gas station and convenience store, where Rhoades worked. It opened a couple of years ago, about the time she was tribal chairman.
Police served a search warrant on Rhoades house late Friday afternoon. An Alturas police officer who would not give his name refused to say what they seized.