Why is the media so hesitant to use the word “terrorism”?
The people have been charged with deliberating setting off a deadly gas explosion that decimated an Indianapolis neighborhood in the hopes of collecting an insurance settlement.
The house’s owner, Monserrate Shirley; her boyfriend, Mark Leonard; and his brother, Bob Leonard, were arrested Friday and charged with murder, arson, and several other counts for their role in the Nov. 10 blast that killed two people.
Authorities said Shirley, 47, was motivated by mounting financial worries including $63,000 in credit card debt and bankruptcy proceedings. Mark Leonard had allegedly just ‘lost a ton of money’ – roughly $10,000 – at a casino just three weeks before the explosion.
The light of day: The damage from the fire was contained to one side of the street
Birds eye: Aerial photo shows two homes that were leveled and numerous neighboring homes that were damaged
Charged: Mark Leonard, 43, his wife, Shirley Leonard, 43, and his brother, Bob Leonard, 54,are charged with murder, arson and other counts in the November gas explosion that killed two people
Investigators determined that Shirley’s home – at the epicenter of the devastating blast that killed her neighbors, John Dion Longworth, 34, and his 36-year-old wife Jennifer Longworth – filled up with gas after a gas fireplace valve and a gas line regulator were removed.
A microwave, probably set to start on a timer, sparked the explosion and flattened much of the Richmond Hills subdivision in the far south of the city, he said.
Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry called it a ‘thoroughly senseless act.’ He said his office would review whether to pursue the death penalty or life in prison without parole against the three.
Randall Cable, the attorney for Shirley and Mark Leonard, said he was stunned by their arrest.
‘I’m just as surprised as everyone else that they’ve made an arrest. My clients have consistently indicated their innocence,’ he said.
Investigators found that Shirley and Mark Leonard had tried but failed to blow up the home a week earlier, and that Leonard had told an acquaintance the house and Shirley’s jewelry were insured for $300,000.
A man fitting Bob Leonard’s description was seen at Shirley’s home on the day of the explosion, and investigators believe this is when the gas line and valve were tampered with.
Cable has said the couple was at a southern Indiana casino when the explosion happened. Shirley’s daughter was staying with a friend, and the family’s cat was being boarded.
Bob and Mark Leonard told investigators they had last seen each other four days before the explosion, but investigators found surveillance video from two businesses showing them together on the two days before the blast.
Explosive: Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry may seek the death penalty for what he called a ‘senseless act’
Victims: Dion and Jennifer Longworth, seen here on their wedding day, both died as they were sleeping in their home next door to the blast site
Longtime loves: Jennifer and Dion, seen in an undated earlier photo, had their funeral on Monday
The day before the blast, the brothers allegedly spoke with an employee of local gas utility Citizens Energy and asked various questions about gas, including the differences between propane and natural gas, the role of a regulator in a house and controlling the flow of natural gas and how much gas it would require to fill a house.
On the day after the explosion, Bob Leonard allegedly called his son and asked him to retrieve a bag and six or seven boxes from a white van outside his mobile home that he said were filled with items he had salvaged from Shirley’s home after the blast.
‘That, of course, is impossible because everything in the house was destroyed. Plus no one was allowed access to the property after the explosion,’ Curry said.
The late-night blast, which was heard from miles away, destroyed five houses including the Longworths’ home, damaged about 90 more and sent residents fleeing, some in their pajamas.
Officials ordered the demolition of about three dozen of the mostly heavily damaged homes and say the blast caused an estimated $4.4 million in damage.
Shirley has said Leonard had replaced the thermostat and that the furnace was working. Cable has said the daughter told her mother she had smelled an odd odor in recent weeks, but that they hadn’t reported it.
The blast killed 34-year-old John Dion Longworth and 36-year-old Jennifer Longworth, who lived next door to the home which believed to have been was pumped with gas.
According to experts, the spark that set of the explosions could have been activated from the outside using a remote control commonly used to turn on an electrical device such as a TV or air conditioner.
Jay Siegel, a forensic and investigative consultant, told The Star that the detonation would have occurred when the concentration of gas inside the home reached 10 per cent.
Possible target: Monserrate Shirley, 47, owns the home the exploded but she was out of town at the time and is now thought to be the intended target of the blast which may have been intentional
Those revelations came amid a flurry of rumors regarding arrests being made and suspects being taken in for questioning in the case that have since been disproved by top police officials.
Indianapolis police Captain Craig Converse said that investigators are currently busy interviewing people and following tips. Another law enforcement official said that two people were interviewed Tuesday, but neither was arrested or charged.
Police also said they served a warrant to obtain property, and another warrant to obtain fingerprints, but declined to identify the recipients of the two documents.
Investigators had taken into possession and inspected a white van that was allegedly spotted in the neighborhood on the afternoon of the explosion, but declined to reveal the identity of the vehicle’s owner or its connection to the case.
On Monday, authorities launched a homicide investigation into the case. Indianapolis Homeland Security Director Gary Coons made the announcement after meeting with residents of the subdivision where the November 10 blast occurred and just hours after funerals were held for the two victims.
‘We are turning this into a criminal homicide investigation,’ Coons said, though he didn’t indicate whether police had any suspects.
Officials have said they believe natural gas was involved in the explosion, which leveled two homes and left dozens more uninhabitable.
Investigators have been focusing on appliances as they search for a cause.
Funerals were held earlier Monday for the couple killed in the explosion, 34-year-old John Dion Longworth and 36-year-old Jennifer Longworth.
The Longworths were asleep in the home next to the epicenter of the explosion, which belongs to a woman named Monserrate Shirley.
Authorities say a loud explosion has leveled a home in Indianapolis and set four others ablaze in a neighborhood, causing several injuries
Treatment: Given the time of the late-night fire, many escaped from their homes wearing pajamas and grabbing their pets
Ms Shirley and her boyfriend Mark Leonard weer out of town at the time of the blast. The Indiana Star reports that Ms Shirley’s daughter was staying with friends and the family’s cat was at a kennel, meaning that no one in the family was injured.
She told the paper that she does not know why the explosion happened because her furnace was working properly even though her ex-husband asserted otherwise.
Her current boyfriend, Mr Leonard, has an extensive criminal record which includes arrests for several felonies like intimidation, stalking, dealing marijuana and possession of a narcotic.
The couple was out of town visiting a casino at the time of the blast.
Attorney Randy Cable, who represents Shirley and Leonard, said in a statement that his clients ‘remain horrified at the tragic events, destruction and loss of lives that occurred and have been cooperating with the authorities since their return to Indianapolis over the weekend.’
The statement goes on to say that the couple have ‘cooperated fully’ with the investigation and have answered ‘each and every question, including speculation as to whether they may have been targeted by anyone.’
The roaring explosion ripped through 31 homes, claimed two victims and forced about 200 people to evacuate a devastated Indianapolis neighborhood on Sunday.
Two living victims were taken to a hospital with minor injuries after the explosion and fire, said Lieut. Bonnie Hensley, with the Indianapolis Fire Department.
Searching for clues: Some witnesses said in televised reports that they heard people screaming ‘help me! help me!’ after the explosion
She said firefighters later put out the flames and searchers then went through the rubble and damaged homes one at a time in case others were left behind. At least one body has been recovered.
The latest estimates for the cost of the damage total $4.4million.
Some witnesses said in televised reports that they heard people screaming ‘help me! help me!’ after the explosion and fire and that two parents and two children were safely pulled from one house that caught fire.
‘This looks like a war zone; it really does,’ Hensley told The Associated Press.
‘Police officers and fire department officials remain at the scene searching for other possible victims.’ She said they used search lights until dawn as they peered into the damaged and ruined homes.
The explosion at 11pm Saturday destroyed two houses that were side by side and spread fire to two other nearby homes in the neighborhood on the south side of Indianapolis, she said, adding at least 14 other homes were damaged in the area by the blast’s shock wave or flying debris it kicked up.
U.S. Rep. Andre Carson said he had received that report from Homeland Security officials during a tour of the devastated middle-class subdivision.
Aerial photographs of the once-tidy neighborhood of one- and two-story homes showed at least two had been reduced to blackened pits of debris. Other homes had sections gutted by fire or holes in their roofs or exterior walls.
Siding dangled from the outside of other homes, and crumpled garage doors hung from houses nearby. Pieces of wood and other building materials littered the street and surrounding properties.
On scene: Emergency personnel work at the site of a home that was destroyed by the explosion that hit an Indianapolis neighborhood
Pitching in: Citizens Energy Group workers work at the site of a leveled home
The blast was heard for miles all around, and authorities said they had no immediate information on the cause. An investigation by fire and other agencies was under way. Reports said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also was involved.
Many people were asleep at the time and had to be evacuated in pajamas, scooping up their pets as they left hastily, authorities said. They left what some described as a chaotic scene of tall flames rising on the Indianapolis skyline.
Survivors reported shattered windows, caved-in walls and garage doors knocked off their hinges. And of the two homes that were leveled by the blast, Hensley said: ‘There’s nothing left.’
Complicating the pre-dawn search of the neighborhood, authorities did not know definitively how many people were in the neighborhood when the blast occurred.
‘People scattered when all this happened, so we’re not really sure how many people we’re looking for,’ Hensley said.
Bryan and Trina McClellan were at home with their 23-year-old son Eric when the shock wave from the blast a block away shuddered through their home. It knocked the windows out along one side of their home and their first instinct was to check on their two toddler grandchildren in the basement.
One was holding his ears and saying “Loud noise, loud noise.”
Destructive: The explosion at 11pm Saturday destroyed two houses that were side by side and spread fire to two other nearby homes
Rescue efforts: Survivors reported shattered windows, caved-in walls and garage doors knocked off their hinges. And of the two homes that were leveled by the blast
Eric McClellan said he ran afterward to the scene of the explosion and saw homes leveled or nearly so.
‘Somebody was trapped inside one of the houses and the firefighters were trying to get to him. I don’t know if he survived,’ he said, adding firefighters were trying to save a man.
He said he didn’t know the man’s fate as firefighters ordered him to leave.
All power, gas and other utilities were shut off as a precaution as emergency officials swarmed the site.
Problematic: Police didn’t know how many people were in the neighborhood when the blast occurred
Collateral damage: The fire started at one home and spread to four others
Approximately 200 people were taken to an elementary school where only about 15 to 25 remained through the night, sleeping on cots. Most of the evacuees subsequently left to stay with relatives, friends or at hotels.
The powerful blast caught sleeping people unaware.
Pam Brainerd, a 59-year-old hospice nurse, said she was asleep on her couch when the tremendous explosion rocked the neighborhood, blowing out the upstairs windows in her house.
‘I was sleeping on the sofa and all of a sudden, my upstairs windows were blowing out and my front door was falling in,’ Brainerd told AP. ‘My front door came off the frame. It was the largest bang I’ve ever heard.’
Right after the explosion she stepped outside to see what she described tall flames one street away.
‘There was a house engulfed in flames and I could see it spreading to other houses,’ she added.
What remains: Approximately 200 people were taken to an elementary school where only about 15 to 25 remained through the night, sleeping on cots
At the elementary school, authorities sought to impose order and calm on an initial scene of confusion.
Some evacuees milled about the elementary school in pajamas and coats they grabbed as they left their homes.
Some had their dogs on leashes and one lady had evacuated her home with a cat. Beyond the school’s parking lot, smoke was still visible, rising in the distance before dawn. The smoke was illuminated by bright lights of emergency responders.
Silent night: A crowd gathers during a candlelight vigil at Southwest Elementary School in Greenwood, Indiana, for a second-grade teacher believed to have died in the fire
Mourning: Jennifer Taylor, right, and her son Conner, left, take part in the vigil
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