As the Olentangy Local School District reels from the loss of two students and their parents last week, safety officials are urging residents to make sure they have carbon-monoxide detectors, and that they're functioning properly.

Genoa Township authorities May 2 found the Reitter family of four dead inside their home in the 6900 block of Lewis Center Road.

Authorities say they were overtaken by a carbon-monoxide leak.

Police identified the dead as Richard Gabriel Reitter III, 50; his wife, Jennifer, 49; their 15-year-old son, Richard Gabriel Reitter IV, a student at Berlin High School; and 13-year-old daughter, Grace, who attended Berkshire Middle School.

The family's three dogs, Ginger, Oreo and Bugsy, also were found dead in the home.

At 1:19 p.m. May 2, a concerned relative called Genoa Township police because the family had complained of illness and no one had been able to contact them for three days. Genoa police and firefighters found elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the home, but the official cause of death for the four individuals remains under investigation.

Olentangy schools did not allow its principals to speak on the incident but instead released a statement saying the district is "deeply saddened" by the deaths.

"Our school community is very close and this tragedy is undoubtedly felt by all," the statement said. "Additional counselors and support staff are at the schools that Gabe and Grace attended, and in the coming days, we will continue to provide assistance to those who are impacted by this tragedy. The Reitter family is in our thoughts and hearts."

Neighbor Charlene Baggs, who lives across the street from the Reitter home, said a relative of the family told her about the deaths. Baggs and her husband, Walter, said the family moved in a few years ago and immediately crossed the busy two-lane road to introduce themselves.

"They were absolutely a wonderful couple," Charlene Baggs said of the Reitters.

Josh Chmielewski, a close friend and classmate of Gabe Reitter, recalled his friend as "strong-minded," good with his hands and "always fixing things."

"He didn't let things get under his skin," Chmielewski said.

He said he'll struggle to make sense of losing an entire family so close to him.

"It's just weird to think you could say 'Goodbye, see you later' to someone, and you won't see them alive again."

Relatives of the Reitters met last week with the Rev. Michael Hansen, pastor of Vineyard Church Delaware County, which the family attended, to begin funeral arrangements.

"There's a heaviness," Hansen said. "A lot of tears."

Visitation and a service were scheduled for May 8, with Hansen officiating. Donations to the Vineyard Church were suggested, according the family's obituary printed in The Columbus Dispatch.

Meanwhile, Delaware County safety leaders have asked residents to respond to the tragedy by checking their own carbon-monoxide detectors.

"There's going to be nothing to alert you that there's a problem other than a carbon-monoxide detector," said Joe Ponzi, Genoa Township fire chief.

Investigators found no detectors in the Reitter home.

On May 2, officers looked around the home, then forced their way in after seeing an unresponsive person inside, said township police Chief Stephen Gammill.

"They encountered a suspicious odor and exited the house," he said.

Firefighters initially recorded 40 parts per million of carbon monoxide, but quickly discovered a much greater 1,200 ppm -- a lethal level. Typically, residents are advised to leave their homes if the level is 30 ppm or higher.

Gammill would not elaborate on the odor or other details of the investigation. He said he is not ruling out anything.

"I'm suspicious of everything and everyone ... until the facts lead me to a proper conclusion," said the 40-year veteran officer and former Columbus police deputy chief.

A basic, battery-operated carbon-monoxide detector costs about $20, and one should be on at least every floor of a house, say fire and public-safety experts.

"If you have a CO alarm, you significantly reduce the chances of this happening to you," Columbus fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin said.

The Columbus Division of Fire responded last year to 288 carbon-monoxide incidents in which CO levels were detected.

The department went to an additional 347 homes where CO was suspected but none existed.

"We are very happy to come out and find that there's not a problem," Martin said.

He said if a detector sounds, don't assume it's malfunctioning and ignore it.

Ponzi said even homes that use only electricity, not natural gas or propane, are at risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning if they have a working fireplace or an attached garage in which cars or generators are operating.

dnarciso@dispatch.com

@DeanNarciso

bbruner@dispatch.com

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