New memorial honors victims of Richmond explosions

RICHMOND, Ind. —Mark Stover remembers April 6, 1968 like it was yesterday.

At the time, Stover was a 17-year-old teen on his way to downtown Richmond. Suddenly, two massive explosions tore through Main Street, Stover remembers fireballs shooting hundreds of feet in the air.

“There were people running up the street with glass in the face, bleeding, people lying dead in the street, it was just shocking for a 17-year-old boy,” he said.

By the end of the day, the blasts would leave 41 dead and dozens injured. More than 125 buildings downtown would also sustain damage.

Investigators determined the blasts were caused by a natural gas leak that ignited in the basement of a sporting goods store, which would also cause a stockpile of gun powder and ammunition to explode.

Stover, who is now a deputy sheriff with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, says he remembers rushing towards the blasts hoping to help.

“I heard someone holler there’s a girl on the roof she’s going to fall off, and I looked up and there was a young girl actually at the edge of the roof in terror, in shock.” Stover said.

Stover would scale an awning and climb to the roof of the building to help the girl before she fell off. His action was one of many demonstrated by Richmond residents to help those in need.

At a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the explosions, the Wayne County Historical Museum dedicated a new memorial to the 41 victims who lost their lives. The memorial contains each name of the victims etched in stone.

Hundreds of residents attended the ceremony, and watched as city, county and state officials delivered remarks to commemorate the victims, and the first responders who worked to save them.

“Let’s allow this this time of reflection to be a time to very personally and individually understand the value of human life. And that no day is guaranteed,” Indiana State Police superintendent Doug Carter said during his speech.

Jo Ellen Trimble, who lost her husband James in the blast described the ceremony as bittersweet. An original memorial dedicated to the victims a few years after the incident did not contain their names. Trimble says the newest memorial will ensure her husband isn’t forgotten.

“It’s very touching to be here, brings back a lot of memories both good and bad,” Trimble said.

The new memorial will be placed at the Wayne County Historical Museum.