EXCLUSIVE: Golf course shooting suspect knew 2 of the victims, friend says

Bryan Anthony Rhoden was arrested Thursday in connection with the mysterious killings at an upscale Kennesaw golf course over Independence Day weekend.

Credit: Cobb County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Cobb County Sheriff's Office

Bryan Anthony Rhoden was arrested Thursday in connection with the mysterious killings at an upscale Kennesaw golf course over Independence Day weekend.

Golf course shooting suspect Bryan Anthony Rhoden knew two of the men he is accused of killing on July 3, a friend of one of the victims told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Additionally, a source who knew one of the men confirmed Rhoden, 23, had a previous association with Henry Valdez, 46, of Anaheim, California, and Paul Pierson, 76, of Topeka.

The two victims’ bodies were discovered by Cobb County police in the back of a Dodge Ram pickup truck. They had been bound, gagged and fatally shot, search warrants obtained by the AJC revealed. The truck had been abandoned, teetering over a sand trap on the 10th hole of Kennesaw’s Pinetree County Club course.

Golf pro Gene Siller, who had gone to investigate, was shot once in the head. Police say he “happened upon a crime.” His memorial service was Monday.

Rhoden faces three counts of murder, three counts of aggravated assault and two counts of kidnapping. He is being held without bond following a brief hearing last week.

There was no known connection between Siller and Rhoden and the two other victims, investigators said.

The relationship between Rhoden and Valdez revolved around the cannabis trade, said Valdez’s friend, Alejandro Guerrero, 44, who lives in the Los Angeles area. He said Valdez was a broker who worked with a “very small circle of people he trusted.” That included Rhoden, said Guerrero. Rhoden was a “nice guy,” he said, and Valdez felt comfortable doing business with the aspiring rapper, whose stage name is B Rod. Rhoden and Valdez followed each other on Instagram.

Guerrero, a graphic designer, considered Valdez a mentor. They met in a men’s support group in which participants strive to become their best selves, he said.

Valdez, said Guerrero, felt no shame about what he did for a living. Once, he said, he overheard Valdez respond “drug dealer” when asked by a prospective landlord about his occupation.

‘If anything, he was too open,” Guerrero said. “Cannabis is medicine, that’s how he looked at it.”

Valdez named his Orange County, California dispensary Hope for Humanity. Cannabis is legal for recreational use in California. It is legal in Georgia for select medical treatments only. Some Georgia cities, including Atlanta and Savannah, have decriminalized cannabis.

According to public documents, and confirmed by Guerrero, Valdez had served some jail time following a 2004 arrest in Illinois for manufacturing and distributing more than 5,000 grams of cannabis.

Pierson, a civil engineer, was a longtime associate of Valdez’, said Guerrero. He didn’t know complete details of the relationship.

The pickup truck found on the golf course was registered to Pierson, police said.

When asked about connections between Rhoden, Valdez and Pierson, Cobb police spokeswoman Shenise Barner said the office had not been provided that information.

Investigators have provided few details about the case, including what led them to suspect Rhoden.

Pierson’s relatives have not responded to requests for comment.

Rhoden’s arrest Thursday was not his first brush with law enforcement, the AJC has learned.

In January 2020, acting on a tip from another agency, the Atlanta Police Department’s K-9 unit intercepted Rhoden as he boarded a plane to Los Angeles, said Jeff DiSantis, spokesman for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Police seized more than $19,000 in suspected drug money from Rhoden, who forfeited the cash after a police canine detected a scent of marijuana on it, DiSantis said.

Rhoden allegedly punched one officer with the Atlanta Police Department’s Airport Drug Interdiction Unit and elbowed another. He was charged two days later in Clayton County, which has jurisdiction at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with simple battery on police and obstructing an officer. He was released on $7,500 bond and entered a not guilty plea in August, records show. That case is still pending.

Rhoden was arrested Thursday at the Chamblee Police Department, where he had gone to pick up a “significant amount of money” seized during a traffic stop five days earlier, Chamblee police said. Rhoden had been stopped about 11:30 p.m. on July 3 – about nine hours after Siller was shot – while driving a black Maserati with a temporary tag in the 5000 block of Peachtree Boulevard, a DeKalb County warrant shows.

Rhoden was booked into the DeKalb County Jail on misdemeanor counts of DUI, a headlight violation, fake ID, driving without insurance, driving an unregistered vehicle and using a license plate to conceal the identity of a vehicle, records show.

Rhoden’s lawyer, Bruce Harvey, has cautioned against a rush to judgment. He declined comment about the case, saying in a statement that the defense’s investigation of the shooting was ongoing.

Harvey represented Rhoden in 2016, when the then-Georgia State University freshman was charged with shooting a 19-year-old in the chest following an attempted drug transaction, authorities said at the time.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, led then by Paul Howard, later declined to prosecute either party. It’s unclear why.

Back in California, Valdez’ tight-knit circle of friends have leaned on each other as they process the news.

“He liked to take care of everyone,” Guerrero said. “You hear about people who’d give you the shirt off their back. That was Henry.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to assist with funeral costs.

“Henry was an extraordinary man, he was always the first to say yes when someone needed his help, the first to say yes to volunteer for those less fortunate,” the page reads. “He spent countless hours giving to those in need. His always positive attitude and his attention left you feeling like you were the most important person. He was taken far too early and he will be missed by all those who knew him.”