Three charged with murder after "setting off deadly Indiana house explosion that killed young couple and destroyed five homes


Three charged with murder after 'setting off deadly Indiana house explosion that killed young couple and destroyed five homes
Home owner, Monserrate Shirley; her
boyfriend, Mark Leonard; and his brother, Bob Leonard, were arrested
Friday and charged with murder and arsonProsecutors may seek the death penaltyFire started in one house around 11pm on November 10 and caused a roaring explosion and more fires
At least 31 homes were severely damaged, three homes were destroyed Two people were killed, two wounded, nearly 200 evacuatedEstimated damage is said to be about $4.4 million

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UPDATED:

21:50 GMT, 22 December 2012

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 on 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.

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The light of day: The damage from the fire was contained to one side of the street

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

Birds eye: Aerial photo shows two homes that were leveled and numerous neighboring homes that were damaged

Leonard

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.

Curry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mourning: Jennifer Taylor, right, and her son Conner, left, take part in the vigil

VIDEO: Scene as two are killed in house explosion in Indianapolis

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