‘I thought it was the end of the world:’ Richmond Hill neighbors testify

An aerial view of Richmond Hill shows what the neighborhood looked like in June 2015. (WISH Photo/Chopper 8)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WISH) — – In a St. Joseph County courtroom, neighbor after neighbor described what they heard, saw and felt the night of November 10, 2012.

Testimony in the trial against Mark Leonard entered its third day Thursday.

Leonard is accused, along with others, of plotting to blow up his girlfriend’s home in the Richmond Hill subdivision on the south side of Indianapolis. The blast killed two people, Dion and Jennifer Longworth, and damaged or destroyed more than 80 homes.

“I was lying in bed and next thing I knew I was on the floor,” Richmond Hill resident Ben Melvin said on the stand.

He is one of dozens of neighbors the prosecution has called to recount that November day in 2012.

“I just couldn’t believe what I was looking at,” Melvin said, recalling the moment he ran out of his home, toward the blast. “I could see there was a structure that was completely gone.”

Melvin described running toward the Olvey home, a family of four that lived in the home just north of the explosion. He described kicking in the door as he and other neighbors worked to free the family from the debris in their home as fire approached.

Neighbor Jennifer Pitcher described just finishing a movie with her mom just after 11 p.m. that night. She said she heard a “really horrible loud noise.”

She described her house as ‘tilting back and forth,’ then said there was more noise, ‘like a grinding, over and over again’ ‘Then total black and dead silence.’

She said, “I remember saying, ‘What in the world is that?’”

Pitcher said, “My first thought was that one of the small planes from the nearby airport had hit the side of my house.”

She said she started thinking there was an earthquake.

“I could see people running in the streets and I could hear the screaming. Then I thought maybe a mass shooter was out there,” Pitcher said.

She said she then saw fire and flames in the direction of the location where her sister lived and told her daughter to stay inside. Pitcher then took off running down the street.

She said she ran through rubble that was up to her knees that she climbed over, could feel the heat from the fire, and then couldn’t find her sister’s family when she arrived at their home.

She says she finally found her sister and her family safe just down the street.

‘A noise like I’ve never heard’

Elizabeth Kelley said they’d just gone to bed when she heard ‘a noise like I’ve never heard’ that knocked her husband out of bed.

She said she thought somebody hit the house with a car.

Kelley explained her husband ran outside then back in. Pausing to compose herself, she explained what he said when he came back in: ‘He kept saying, ‘It’s gone, it’s gone,’ tears rolling down his face.”

“He said, ‘Honey, the neighbor’s house is gone.’”

“I really thought there were multiple tragedies,” she said. “Most of that road I thought people were dead.”

‘I felt the walls shaking’

Dean Weathers was watching football, when he said he felt a big blast. He said, “First thing I felt was the walls shaking, house shaking.”

He said everything on the walls was coming off, then he “felt a big concussion that rippled through the house.”

He equated it to a Mark-84 bomb that he had trained with, while flying F-16’s in the AirForce.

When he went outside toward the devastation, he said he smelled gas, explaining it was eerily quiet at the time. He remembered hearing crackling of fire, seeing debris in the street, and they started to turn off gas meters on a couple houses.

Nearby, Carla Wilson described her bed shaking, walls shaking – she said ‘the first thing i thought was, is this the end of the world?’

She said she ran outside in her pajamas to see ‘car alarms going off..’ saying everyone was in a state of panic.

“I saw a lot of fire, firetrucks, a lot of people in hysterics,” said Wilson.

Wilson also described her daughter running through the neighborhood, through a cornfield to get to her to see if she was okay because she wasn’t answering her cell phone. Wilson said, starting to tear up – ‘She found me.’

Tony Quakenbush said he heard an ‘extremely loud explosion.’

He added the only way ‘I can describe it is like being in the movies. It was the loudest thing I’ve heard in my entire life.’

He said after that – it was silence.

He said the double doors to he and his wife’s bedroom exploded in, the drywall collapsed, and insulation blew in.

“One thing I remember thinking, ‘Oh my god the kids,’” he said. He ran into his daughter’s room, saw she was screaming and crying, then he said he grabbed his family and said ‘We’ve gotta get out of the house.’

He said he ran down the street, and saw neighbors coming out, covered in blood, with a lot of confusion. He said he saw one house was completely gone and two houses were in flames.

Quakenbush explained the damage received to his home, explaining it had to be demolished because the force of the explosion moved the house off the foundation. He said it totaled about $185,000 in damage.

Jurors not only heard the description of what neighbors went through that evening, but also the extent of the damage to each of their homes. Some neighbors said their homes had to be demolished, others were out of their homes for eight months.

They said their front doors that were dead-bolted shut, were blown open. Their garage doors were also blown open, crumpled, and others described items falling off walls. Some of the homes had the foundation so badly damaged, it was irreparable.

One of the neighbors told jurors Monserrate Shirley and defendant Mark Leonard were at the scene in the days after the explosion.

It was Shirley’s home that exploded, and she, her boyfriend Mark Leonard, Leonard’s half brother Bob, and two others are those accused in the blast.

One neighbor testified she saw Shirley with Leonard as she went to collect some belongings from the neighborhood.

She said she’d never met Shirley before, but said she went over to introduce herself. She testified that Shirley was crying, and kept saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’

The neighbor said she told Shirley, ‘You’re a victim,’ and ‘your house just exploded.’

She said Shirley kept saying ‘I’m sorry,’ then, everyone ‘is saying such horrible things about me.’

It was the first time in the trial a neighbor identified defendant Mark Leonard to the jury and placed him near the scene. Prosecutors say you can expect more of that in the coming days of testimony.

Court proceedings in the trial will not be held Friday, and will resume Monday at noon.

During Wednesday’s testimony an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department detective spoke about his attempts to save a Richmond Hill victim. He told jurors he drove over to the scene from his home, and he started communicating with other first responders via radio. Jurors heard some of those breathless radio transmissions.

Tuesday, jurors heard from veteran firefighters who were among the first to arrive to the scene. They also heard audio from the radio traffic as firefighters worked to rescue victim Dion Longworth who was trapped in his home. Along with some of the hundreds of 911 calls that flooded Marion County 911 after the explosion that November night.

24-Hour News 8 Reporter Teresa Mackin is in St. Joseph County covering the trial. Watch her live reports on WISH-TV at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

 

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