20 years ago: Tippecanoe County attempted courthouse bombing

Thursday around 10 p.m. marks 20 years since someone drove a truck through the Tippecanoe County Courthouse with the intention of blowing it up.

Posted: Aug. 2, 2018 6:19 AM
Updated: Aug. 2, 2018 6:46 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Thursday around 10 p.m. marks 20 years since someone drove a truck through the Tippecanoe County Courthouse with the intention of blowing it up.

That did not happen according to plan, but it still caused significant damage to the eastern side of the courthouse. The person responsible was never caught.

No one was injured in the incident. Then Sheriff Dave Murtaugh said the truck contained 55-gallon drums of what appeared to be gasoline and another, unknown substance. 

"They're treating this as a terrorist attack on the courthouse," then Tippecanoe County Commissioner John Knochel told WLFI that day.

Current Commissioner Tracy Brown remembers the night well. He was working the jail in the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Office at the time, and later became Sheriff. He hoped to catch the person responsible back then and still does.

"But I am resolved that it may be more difficult now than it was back in 2008 when we stood before our citizens and said we believe this can still be solved," said Brown.

He wants the public to know County Commissioners currently have the funds for a nearly $9,000 reward for information in this case. However, the full reward for tips leading to an arrest could be upwards of $20,000. Whether the statute of limitations would let the criminal off the hook isn't certain. There are some loopholes around it.

At this point, most of the original investigators have retired. And many people in the public don't even know or remember it happened.

Bryan Wiggs is the General Manager of Digby's Pub and Patio right across the street from the courthouse. He had no idea someone tried to bomb it 20 years ago.

"I would have been 8 years old," said Wiggs. "That's a little crazy, I don't understand why anyone would want to do that, and apparently they haven't caught the guy."

That makes Wiggs a little nervous. He can't help but think what would happen if the same thing happened today.

"People would probably be scared to come downtown for at least a pretty substantial amount of time so it would be a pretty big hurt for us," said Wiggs. 

But for 20 years, Tippecanoe County has worked to secure the courthouse. There is now only one public entrance. Employees must enter with a key card and visitors have to go through a metal detector.

Tippecanoe County Courthouse Security Supervisor Scott Hodson said there's more keeping the courthouse safe than what meets the eye and a lot of it happened after August 2, 1998.

"Things have come so far since then and obviously with September 11, 2001 we got some other measures after that and I feel very confident in what we are doing down here," said Hodson. 

"Hopefully that will be enough to deter somebody from trying something like that again," added Wiggs. 

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