TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Fifteen years ago, the country was focused on Lafayette because of a domestic act of terrorism. For those involved, Aug. 2, 1998 seems like yesterday.
The 11:00 p.m. newscast that night started with a report of a fire at the Tippecanoe County Courthouse. That battle went on for more than an hour, shutting down downtown for hours.
LPD Ofc. Jackie Becker was the first person to arrive on scene, shortly after 10:00 p.m., not ready for what she was about to see.
"The glass was gone, the doorway was gone, I observed a pickup truck inside the courthouse," Becker told News 18 at the time.
Fifteen years later, "I can still picture it perfectly," Becker recalls.
Black smoke poured from the courthouse. The smell of diesel fuel hung in the area.
Investigators later determined there was an improvised explosive device on board of a red Ford pickup truck, along with a pair of 55-gallon drums filled with accelerant, that had been deliberately driven through the 4th Street door.
"I could be right next to you and not see you at all, it was that pitch black," retired LFD Lt. Dave Fagan remembers.
Finally, just after 11:30 p.m., the fire was extinguished.
"I'm very sick to think that something like this could happen to the nice courthouse," Tippecanoe County Commissioner John Knochel said 15 years ago.
"Most of my memories are still pretty vivid," Knochel recalls in 2013.
The next morning, the bed of the pickup was visible.
Dave Fagan was the firefighter who pulled the license plate the night before.Knochel remembers getting chewed out by then-Sheriff Dave Murtaugh for calling it a terrorist attack.
"That hit the news immediately," says Knochel. "The sheriff comes and says 'You're not to be saying anything like that, you're not to be discussing that.' I said, 'Well, that's what you told me.'"
Detectives later found the truck had been stolen from a Wabash National employee four days earlier, on Wednesday July 29. Around the same time, almost 175 gallons of gas were stolen from the Indiana Crop Improvement Association on U.S. 52.
"They say there's a bomb in the building and you're looking at each other and go, 'Oh, you've got to be kidding,'" says Fagan.
"If it would have gone off, it would have taken several of us out, plus several buildings," adds Becker.
State police, FBI and ATF agents soon arrived to help sheriff's deputies. A number of theories fueled by physical evidence and hundreds of tips led nowhere definite.
"It wasn't something where a person decided last minute, 'Hey, I think I'll put a truck through those lower two doors.' It wasn't anything like that. There was some preparation that went into it," says current Tippecanoe County Sheriff Tracy Brown.
Becker, focused on trying to save anyone inside, didn't see anyone as she pulled up.
But other witnesses reported seeing a white man in his late 40's, around 6 feet tall and balding, leaving the scene. Others also saw a mid-80's white Ford pickup truck with a wide blue stripe leaving a parking lot near 2nd and Main streets.
Neither man nor truck was ever located.
Sheriff Brown believes the would-be bomber was local because he knew the area and had a strong motive for his actions. Though he says no bomb threats were made ahead of time and no one claimed responsibility after.
It's hard to believe for those involved that a decade and a half has gone by.
Becker still thinks of it as she drives by the 4th Street entrance.
"I do," she says. "It's a memory I won't forget ever."
"It seems like yesterday, it really does," says Brown.
Because no one was killed, the statute of limitations for the crime ran out five years ago. Still, investigators are still just as interested in finding out who did it and why.
"Somebody knows and has that piece of information we need to bring closure to this case," says Brown. "We are very, very close, and just need that little link."
When all was said and done, the burned molding removed, the melted chandeliers replaced, the damage totaled more than $217,000. But everyone agrees, it could have been worse.
"I would have sworn we were going to lose the courthouse that night, it was that bad," says Knochel.
"We were all very, very, very lucky that it wasn't worse that it was," adds Becker.
Former sheriff Dave Murtaugh refused our interview request citing he was bound to silence as a former U.S. Marshal.
Because no similar acts have been committed in the last 15 years, Brown says it's very possible that the would-be bomber is either in prison for another crime or dead.
If you have any information about the incident, you are urged to call the Sheriff's Office or the anonymous We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME.
Friday, on News 18 at 6, News 18 will explore how the incident changed security at the courthouse and if a county official who opposed the changes at the time has since changed his mind.
Governor Mike Pence and executives from Allegion announced Wednesday morning that the company will base its North American headquarters in Carmel, creating up to 100 new jobs by 2014.
The Indiana State Fire Marshal's Office wants residents to be aware of fire hazards involving Christmas trees and decorations during the holiday season.
An Indianapolis police officer's lawsuit against the original seller of the handgun later used to wound him might have to overcome a state law that gives gun sellers significant immunity.