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Deputies Investigating Shooting Following Rural Klan Rally

June 29, 1987

RAY, Ohio (AP) _ The Ku Klux Klan staged a rally and cross-burning at the invitation of a couple who called in the white supremacist group to help them save their farm.

Shots were fired after the rally and the Klansmen are keeping an invisible vigil outside the couple’s home to protect them, the couple’s son said.

The Ohio Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and KKK members from Indiana, dressed in full regalia, preached white supremacy and anti-Communism for about four hours Saturday in a bid to recruit members and attract publicity to the plight of Joe and Rita Ray.

The Rays leased a cornfield on their 450-acre farm to the Klan for $1 for the rally after the family read reports of a similar Klan rally in March to help another Ohio farmer who was facing bankruptcy.

″It’s the only thing that was left for us to do,″ said Mrs. Ray. ″Everybody wants a piece of our land, and we just can’t take it no more. All they (the KKK) told us was that if we let them do their thing, then they’d get us publicity. That’s all we wanted.″

Greg Ray, one of the Rays’ three children, said Sunday that KKK members told the family they will remain hidden while they keep watch on the house in this southeastern Ohio village to make sure the family is safe.

The Klan rally, attended by some 60 people, ended just before dusk when seven Klansmen marched around a kerosene-soaked, 15-foot wooden cross and ignited it.

Less than three hours later, someone fired at least six shots from a car while a television reporter from Columbus prepared for a live broadcast near the Ray house.

Jackson County sheriff’s deputies said WBNS-TV reporter Kurt Ludlow was not injured, but Greg Ray said he thinks the television equipment was the target. Ludlow, however, said that it appeared the house was the target.

A few minutes later, several more shots were fired from a wooded area near the home, Greg Ray said.

The Rays’ problems began seven years ago when a land ownership dispute with their neighbors, the Stepp family, turned violent. Mrs. Ray said two barns on their property have been burned, cattle have been killed and shots have been fired at the front of the house.

The battle ended up in court when Edward Stepp filed a $5 million lawsuit contending that Greg Ray stabbed him. The court ordered the Rays to pay $189,000, but Mrs. Ray said the family cannot afford to pay that and still keep the farm.

Before the rally, deputies were called in when Pete Collins of Hamilton, Imperial Wizard of the Ohio KKK, demanded that John Cassells, a black free- lance photographer, be removed from the field.

″Get him out of here. He don’t belong here,″ Collins told Jackson County Sheriff Edgar Hayburn.

Cassells agreed to photograph the rally from a road after Hayburn explained that the Klan had the authority to order him off the land since they had a lease.

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