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Richmond Hill: 'I kept thinking they'd show up'

Posted at 8:31 PM, Jan 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-29 00:02:53-05

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- John Longworth took the witness stand before an Allen County jury Thursday to tell them about the night he lost his son and daughter-in-law in the Richmond Hill Explosion.

Dion and Jennifer Longworth were killed in that explosion shortly after 11 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2012. Bob Leonard, Jr., is one of five people criminally charged in the explosion. His trial on 51 counts, ranging from arson to murder, began last Thursday in Fort Wayne.

John Longworth told members of Leonard's jury he was asleep in bed with a cold when he first learned something had happened on the south side.

"My grandson called sometime after 11 p.m. asking if I'd felt an earthquake. I said no," Longworth said. "I tried to go back to sleep. A short time later he called back and said there'd been reports of an explosion on Fieldfare Way."

MORE FROM DAY 5 | Full testimony | The Olvey Family: Burning home collapsed on us

Longworth told jurors he threw on some clothes and rushed toward the south side neighborhood, where he was eventually directed toward Mary Bryan Elementary School.

"I go in and they had maybe 200-300 people in there. I asked police what was going on. They had a list of people, but Dion and Jennifer weren't on it," Longworth said. "A chaplain told me they may have been taken to a hospital. They gave me a list of four possible hospitals. I called my wife and asked her to call two, while I drove to the other two."

Longworth and his wife eventually wound back up at Mary Bryan after checking all four hospitals.

"That's when a chaplain told me that 8355 [Fieldfare Way] was ground zero," Longworth said. "They told me they would be getting a coroner … that once they got the fire under control, they would be searching for bodies. That's when I called Jennifer's parents and Dion's mother and told them they probably needed to head to the school."

Jennifer Longworth's mother, Nancy Buxton, took up the story where John Longworth left off.

"John Longworth called and said something had happened in the subdivision," Buxton said. "I turned on the TV and it was on every channel. The explosion. I wanted to go to the neighborhood, but John said not to yet. That it was chaos."

Eventually, Buxton said, she and her husband Don joined the Longworths at Mary Bryan Elementary.

"We went to the gym and we sat down, and we pretty much waited all night to hear the news," she said.

The news, eventually, was the Dion and Jennifer Longworth had died when their neighbor Monserrate Shirley's home exploded – the result of a conspiracy to commit arson and insurance fraud for a $300,000 payout, prosecutors would later allege.

Mark Ray Leonard, Bob Leonard's half-brother, was convicted in July of 53 counts in connection with the explosion and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, plus 75 years.

Below, find John Longworth and Nancy Buxton's full testimony from Thursday:

1:07 p.m. – John Longworth, Dion's father, called as witness.

Longworth: "I'd gone to bed early that evening with a cold. My grandson called sometime after 11 p.m. asking if I'd felt an earthquake. I said no. I tried to go back to sleep. A short time later he called back and said there'd been reports of an explosion on Fieldfare Way."

Longworth says he quickly dressed and drove toward Richmond Hill.

Longworth: "I was able to get within about a quarter mile of the entrance."

He says he was eventually redirected to Mary Bryan Elementary.

Longworth: "I go in and they had maybe 200-300 people in there. I asked police what was going on. They had a list of people, but Dion and Jennifer weren't on it. A chaplain told me they may have been taken to a hospital. They gave me a list of four possible hospitals. I called my wife and asked her to call two, while I drove to the other two."

Longworth: "We eventually went back to the school. That's when a chaplain told me that 8355 was ground zero."

Longworth: "They told me they would be getting a coroner … that once they got the fire under control, they would be searching for bodies. That's when I called Jennifer's parents and Dion's mother and told them they probably needed to head to the school."

Longworth: "I kept thinking maybe they would show up. That they'd show up somehow."

Longworth says he and others searched for Dion and Jennifer's dog Pepper, but never found it.

Longworth says the last time he saw Dion and Jennifer alive was 9-10 days before the explosion, when they had lunch.

1:13 p.m. – Longworth dismissed.

1:14 p.m. – Nancy Buxton, Jennifer's mother, called as a witness.

Buxton is extremely soft-spoken. She says Dion and Jennifer had been married since 2011.

Buxton says she and her husband were watching the Notre Dame game with her elderly mother, and they had it turned up very loud because she is hard of hearing.

Buxton: "John Longworth called and said something had happened in the subdivision. I turned on the TV and it was on every channel. The explosion."

Buxton: "I wanted to go to the neighborhood, but John said not to yet. That it was chaos."

Buxton: "We went to the gym and we sat down, and we pretty much waited all night to hear the news."

1:26 p.m. – Buxton dismissed.

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Call 6 Investigator Rafael Sanchez and Senior Digital Correspondent Jordan Fischer will be in Fort Wayne covering the trial every day. Download the RTV6 app to get the latest live blog posts as the proceedings unfold.

FOLLOW | Rafael Sanchez on Twitter | Jordan Fischer on Twitter

RELATED LINKS | Richmond Hill Special Section |  Mark Ray Leonard convicted on all counts

PREVIOUS | Timeline of events | Gallery: The Richmond Hill Explosion | Where were you at 11:11 PM?

INTERACTIVE MAP | Residents relive Richmond Hill explosion

 


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