Police are now investigating the southside explosion that killed two people and damaged dozens of homes as a criminal homicide, and they are offering rewards for any information.
Gary Coons, chief of the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety’s Homeland Security division, said investigators have been trying to determine the cause of an explosion that killed a Greenwood elementary school teacher and her husband and damaged 86 homes in the Richmond Hill neighborhood, while the city also has led a recovery effort.
“At this time we’re here to inform you that we’re turning this into a criminal homicide investigation,” Coons said.
Investigators are particularly interested in any information about a white van that was spotted in the neighborhood the day of the explosion, or anyone inside the van.
No one has been arrested.
Can you help?
Anyone with information about the Richmond Hill explosion or a white van seen in the neighborhood is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 262-8477.
Rewards: Crime Stoppers will give a $1,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest in the case, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will give a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
Whom to call: The Marion County prosecutor said to direct tips to Crime Stoppers at 262-8477.
By the numbers
Here’s a look at damage to the Richmond Hill subdivision and progress toward recovery:
Estimated amount of damage
Number of homes with severe structural damage
Homes deemed unsafe to return to
Homes in the investigation area
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the Indianapolis Fire Department, the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will investigate the blast as a crime that someone committed, he said.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said the investigation is aimed at “determining if there are individuals who may be responsible for this explosion and fire.”
He declined to elaborate on why investigators wanted to know about the white van and said they wouldn’t comment on specifics of the investigation. He, Coons and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard declined to answer any questions when they announced the criminal investigation.
Investigators had been working on the Nov. 10 explosion from two different angles, Curry said. They’ve been trying to pinpoint a cause and also determine if anyone was responsible for the deadly blast and fire, he said.
“That investigation has consisted of numerous interviews of witnesses, as well as the execution of search warrants,” he said. “Based upon those interviews and the results of those search warrants, we can confirm tonight that there’s an active homicide investigation in this matter.”
Ballard called the investigation a search for truth and justice.
He said he couldn’t imagine what the families of the victims, teacher Jennifer Longworth and electrical engineer Dion Longworth, must be going through. Friends, family and students mourned the loss of the couple at their funeral Monday.
The couple lived next door to the house where investigators are focusing. The co-owner of that house, John Shirley, told The Associated Press he had received a text message from his daughter recently saying the furnace in the home, which she shares with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, had gone out.
Officials have said they believe natural gas was involved in the explosion, which destroyed five homes and left dozens damaged, some heavily. Investigators have been focusing on appliances as they search for a cause.
Shirley’s ex-wife, Monserrate Shirley, said her boyfriend, Mark Leonard, had replaced the thermostat recently and the furnace had resumed working. The couple were away at a casino at the time of the blast. The daughter was staying with a friend, and the family’s cat was being boarded.
Monserrate Shirley’s attorney, Randall Cable, declined comment on the announcement Monday evening.
Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest in the case. The ATF is offering up to a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction.
Curry encouraged anyone with any information about the case to contact Crime Stoppers at 262-8477.
Ballard, Curry and Coons first made a statement about the criminal investigation to explosion victims who had gathered at the Southport Presbyterian Church on Monday night before making the announcement to the public. They pledged to update Richmond Hill residents before telling the public, Indianapolis Fire Department spokeswoman Rita Burris said.
Residents gathered at the church for information about insurance Monday night as part of an ongoing recovery effort.
About one-third of the families affected by the devastating explosion sought help at a recovery center open at the end of last week.
About 30 families went to the city’s recovery center at the church to receive services from the American Red Cross and other agencies.
Nine agencies, including the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Department of Insurance, were there to help residents file insurance claims, replace lost state IDs or get questions answered. Residents also have been getting help from nonprofit agencies such as the Ready Indy Christian Response Network and the People Helping People Network, Burris said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.