Indianapolis explosion investigated as criminal homicide
The Marion County prosecutor announced the investigation into last weekend's south side explosion has turned into a criminal homicide investigation Monday.
It was the first time the people who lived in the Richmond HIll subdivision learned for certain what many had suspected all along, that the deadly explosion that devastated their neighborhood was no accident.
Speaking at a news conference Monday evening, Indianapolis Department of Homeland Security Chief Gary Coons, who is also the incident commander at the Richmond Hill subdivision explosion site, said investigators were turning it into a criminal homicide investigation.
"We can confirm tonight that there is an active homicide investigation in this matter," said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry.
The Indianapolis Fire Department, Indianapolis Metro Police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Marion County Prosecutor's Office are among the agencies investigating the incident.
Curry said the Indianapolis Metro Police Department and his office had interviewed "numerous witnesses and executed search warrants."
Crime Stoppers is offering $1,000 and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is offering up to $10,000 leading to an arrest and conviction. Anonymous tips can be called in to Central Indiana Crime Stoppers at 262-TIPS.
"If anyone has information about a white van seen in the Richmond Hills subdivision the afternoon of November 10 and information about the occupants of that van, we ask that such information be communicated to Crime Stoppers, as well," Curry said.
"That van had been an issue, a topic of issue the past couple, three weeks," said Richmond Hill Neighborhood Crime Watch Captain Doug Aldridge.
Richmond Hill's Neighborhood Crime Watch captain says neighbors had seen a white van before at the first home that blew up. The home, where investigators say Moncy Shirley, her boyfriend Mark Leonard and Shirley's daughter lived. The family wasn't home when the house exploded.
Sources told Eyewitness News a white van was towed and will be searched for evidence related to the explosion. Sources also said investigators will try to figure out who had the van last. There was no word, though, if the van towed was the same one residents spotted in their neighborhood.
Investigators haven't named any suspects. Shirley has said police have interviewed both her and her and Leonard. Shirley has denied having anything to do with what happened.
The development comes on the same day that Jennifer and Dion Longworth, the couple killed in the Nov. 10 explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision, were laid to rest.
"As many of you know, I was here yesterday, and today I went to a funeral Mass. And during that Mass, I was having trouble between myself and a sense of peace and reconciliation. I could not even imagine what the families are going through. But there is a secular side to this. There is a search for truth and there is a search for justice," said Mayor Greg Ballard.
Monday, around 20 police and firemen were shoveling their way through the last layer of ashes and debris in the garage of the home where the explosion is thought to have occurred.
Their work is arduous and painstaking. After eight days of detective work, they appear now to be looking for the smallest of clues.
Investigators are trying to find the source of a suspected natural gas leak and determine whether the fiery blast was the result of a malfunctioning appliance, an accident, or an intentional act.
Now it appears that investigators believe it was intentional, but they are not releasing any details at this point.
The Longworths lived next door to the home that exploded. Their house collapsed and burned around them. The explosion damaged dozens of other homes, and nearly a quarter of the neighborhood's houses are unsafe to live in.
The city wants them boarded up and secure by the end of the day. Contractors and homeowners appear close to meeting the deadline, and some are already making repairs, with new windows, new doors and new siding going up.
The full statement from Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry at Monday evening's press conference:
"We are here this evening to provide an update regarding the explosion which occurred in a residence on Fieldfare Way on Saturday evening, November 10th. As you are all aware, Jennifer and John Longworth died as a result of that explosion and their funeral was today. Our thoughts and prayers are with their family, those injured in the explosion, and the families who lost homes and property as a result of the explosion.
While the fire investigation has been progressing, there has been a parallel investigation, not solely focusing on the cause of the explosion but focusing on individuals who may have been responsible once accidental causes were eliminated. That investigation has consisted of numerous interviews with various individuals as well as execution of a number of search warrants and is being conducted jointly by the IMPD and the MCPO.
Based upon those interviews and results of those search warrants, that investigation is now considered an active criminal homicide investigation.
We have been advised that Crime Stoppers is offering a $1000 reward for information leading to an arrest in this case. Special Agent in Charge Robin Shoemaker of ATF has authorized a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
While details of the homicide investigation cannot be released at this time we are asking that anyone with information about the explosion contact Crime Stoppers.
Lastly, if anyone has information about a white van seen in the Richmond Hill subdivision the afternoon of November 10 and information about the occupants of that van, we ask that such information be communicated to Crime Stoppers as well."