Ashland, IL man kills fiancée and her 2 daughters, injures other man before taking own life: sheriff

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Saturday, December 16, 2023
Man kills fiancée, her 2 daughters before taking own life, police say
A killing spree has rocked the small town of Ashland, Ill. after police say Ronald "Butch" Cobren Jr. killed his fiancée and her two daughters, one of whom was pregnant, before tak

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Four people are dead including a suspect, and one person is hospitalized with life-threatening wounds after a violent, multi-scene shooting spree in Ashland, Ill. on Thursday night.

When Cass County Sheriff Devron Ohrn saw the shooting victims' names and who the suspected shooter was, it didn't require a deep dive to research the situation. Sheriff Ohrn told the ABC7 I-Team that he knew them all, including the gunman, some from birth.

That's how law enforcement goes in the small downstate county where he grew up, and so did all of those most directly affected by America's 637th mass shooting this year.

"Heinous acts of this magnitude robs the core of any community," Ohrn said in televised remarks on Friday afternoon.

Investigators said the trouble started in a ramshackle rural home west of Springfield Thursday evening, when EMS responded to call of a person who'd been shot in the stomach. When medical responders arrived, police found 19-year-old Autumn Bell dead of a gunshot wound. Last month Bell had posted an ultrasound photo on social media where she and her boyfriend were celebrating the upcoming birth of their first baby.

Also at the scene police found a man who was shot, and who they say remains hospitalized with life threatening wounds. He hasn't been publicly identified.

A short time later, another shooting was reported at a nearby address. When police arrived they found 16-year-old Alaria Bell and 53-year-old Christina Bell, also dead.

In short order, three women were dead and one man critically wounded. He told police the name of the shooter.

Police say 62-year-old Ronald "Butch" Cobren Jr. is behind the murders. The longtime Ashland resident was a retired US postal worker. He was also the new fiancé of Christina Bell, according to friends and social media posts by both of them.

Their Facebook pictures, however, did not reveal whatever it was that police say drove Cobren to murder.

Shortly after finding bodies in two locations, police found Cobren's car near North Main and Oak Street in nearby Jacksonville, Ill., and conducted a traffic stop on the suspect vehicle. Police said they found the suspected shooter in the car, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Illinois State Police Zone 4 Investigations, Illinois State Police Crime Scene Division, Illinois State Police Patrol, Ashland Police Department, Beardstown Police Department, Pleasant Plains Police Department, Cass County Sheriff's Office, and Menard County Sheriff's Office were the police agencies involved in the case.

A day later, on Friday afternoon, Sheriff Ohrn told the I-Team that sometimes living in a small community there is a familiarity with people that breeds trust. In the case of a mass shooting, it can make things more difficult.

"We will all get through this the Cass County way," Sheriff Ohrn said. "Offering support, care and remembrance. Be quick to lend a hand or a hug and be slow to criticize. Pray for the family and the many affected by these senseless acts of violence. Lastly, reach out if help is needed and always remember the victims."

The sheriff told ABC7's I-Team that there is no public danger because the gunman is dead and nobody else was involved in the violent spree.

Autopsies of everyone killed will be Monday. But those results won't answer the most important question for this tight community: why did this happen?