Richmond Hill residents rebuilding lives as suspects head to court

A dozen new homes are under construction or already finished.
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The three suspects in the deadly south side explosion head back to court Wednesday.

Monserrate Shirley, Mark Leonard, and Bob Leonard are facing murder charges for the November explosion in the Richmond Hill subdivision. Prosecutors say they created a gas leak and blew up Shirley's house intending to collect insurance money.

Attorneys are expected to argue the legal details of a trail scheduled for November 20-14.

Two neighbors, a young couple died in the fireball that destroyed more than 30 homes and damaged dozens of others.

Every time we visit Richmond Hill, it more like a new neighborhood. Damaged homes are being rebuilt like new. New homes are rising out of empty lots, people are moving back with a new sense of hope for their lives.

According to building permits issued by the department of Code Enforcement, 48 homes have undergone major structural repairs. New roofs, doors, windows and siding are on almost every block.

A dozen new homes are under construction or already finished.

Andrea Cox, her husband and two children plan to move in next week. Standing outside her new home, she proclaimed, "It's breath taking It's emotional"

The last time we saw Andrea, she was too emotional to speak. She and family members watched as wrecking crews tore the family's shattered home. Now she likens it to watching an ailing loved one being removed from life support. That afternoon feels like both yesterday and forever ago.

"You just start to think about what has happened and what you've been through in the last eight months. It's overwhelming." she said.

The horrific explosion killed two neighbors, put three others in jail and destroyed or damaged roughly 100 homes.

Some families moved away. Their broken houses are gone. We counted 11 empty lots. Others, like the Cox's decided to stay. They are rebuilding homes and reconstructing their lives while staying with relatives or in making the best of it in small apartments.

Looking over her new spacious kitchen, Andrea admitted, "I shed a lot of tears this week."

Since the night of the explosion, and during the months of "homelessness" in a small apartment, Andrea wrestled with anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and near paralyzing depression.

"As a mom you feel like you take on the pain from your kids and from your family, but it's too much for a human being to withstand," she said.

She showed off her new home with an air of excitement and relief. There's a living room with a fireplace the family always wanted. A boy's bedroom is painted Cubs blue and red. The daughter's room has more muted colors. There's a large loft area where kids and parents can relax together.

More than a home, Andrea says this will be a sanctuary for the family to share.

"We want this to be a home we can come in and relax and reflect on with each other and just fill the house with love and laughter and be what a family should be," she explained.

Every day Andrea says she thinks of the neighbors she lost. There is still a lot of work and healing to be done across the neighborhood. The crime scene, where the explosion occurred and two people died, remains as investigators left it surrounded by a tall chain link fence and padlocked gates.

Flowers that somehow survived the explosion and fire as well as some recently planted here won't be enough to hide the memory of a tragic night that changed the lives of so many people.