Nashville explosion believed to be "an intentional act," police say
Nashville, Tenn. - A large explosion broke through downtown Nashville early Christmas morning in what police call a "premeditated act" that was apparently triggered by a motor home that issued warnings of a bomb before it exploded. CBS subsidiary WTVF reports that the explosion was felt across much of Davidson County around 6:30 a.m.
Law enforcement sources tell CBS News that they found what appeared to be human remains near the site of the explosion. They did not state whether the remains were from someone linked to the explosion or from an innocent victim.
"The explosion was significant as you can see," police spokesman Don Aaron said at a meeting on Friday morning. "We believe the explosion was a deliberate act."
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A law enforcement officer walks past damage from an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tennessee on December 25, 2020. / Photo credit: Mark Humphrey / AP
Three people were rushed to hospital for treatment, but officials said the injuries were not critical. Police said an officer was knocked off his feet in the explosion.
Nashville police chief John Drake said officers received a "gunshot" call around 5:30 am in the Second Avenue area near Commerce Street.
"When the officers replied, they came across a motor home with a record that said a potential bomb would explode within 15 minutes. When the officers heard this, they decided to evacuate nearby buildings and knocked on doors , made announcements to get people to safety. "
"Shortly afterwards the motor home exploded," said Drake.
On Friday afternoon, the police department tweeted a photo of the mobile home taken by a surveillance camera before the explosion and asked everyone to contact the authorities with information about how to do so.
BREAKING: This is the RV that exploded on 2nd Ave N this morning. It arrived on 2nd Ave at 1:22 am. Have you seen this vehicle in our area or do you have information about it? Please contact us via Crime Stoppers at 615-742-7463 or online at https://t.co/dVGS7o0m4v. @ATFHQ pic.twitter.com/JNx9sDinAH
- Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) December 25, 2020
"We don't know of any other imminent threat to the area right now," said Aaron.
The FBI and ATF are now taking the lead in the investigation. FBI Deputy Special Agent Matt Foster said at a lunchtime briefing, "We're doing everything we can to find out who is responsible for what happened here today. Investigative leads must be followed up. There are also technical leads." Work that has to happen. "
He urged anyone with information to go to www.fbi.gov/nashville or call the 1-800-CALL-FBI for advice.
"Please tell us what you know. We need your pointers, we need your help," he said.
The explosion caused damage to nearby buildings and broken windows in the area when a cloud of black smoke rose over Second Avenue.
The blast took place outside of 166 Second Avenue, the AT&T building, but police said investigators were not yet sure if this location was chosen on purpose.
WTVF reports that the explosion caused AT&T outages across the region and affected 911 lines for local law enforcement agencies. In a statement, AT&T said, "Service to some customers in the Nashville area may be affected by damage to our facilities from the explosion this morning. We are in contact with law enforcement and are working to restore it as quickly and safely as possible of service. "
In addition, the FAA temporarily suspended flights from Nashville due to telecommunications problems.
"A big orange fireball"
An eyewitness, Noelle Rasmussen, said in an interview on CBSN that her family was woken up early Christmas morning by police knocking on their door, telling them to evacuate immediately because of a security threat in the neighborhood. As they drove away, she turned and saw "a huge explosion" rip through the street.
There was "a big orange ball of fire in the air, about twice the height of our building," she said. "It looks like the entire front of our building has been blown away."
Her voice became emotional as she continued, "I'm so glad we left. I'm so glad we have our children. And most of all, I'm so glad of the officers entering a building from which they were knew the place was dangerous and, you know, woke us up and got us out. I'm so grateful. "
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said he had toured the destruction zone and "we are very lucky" there were no other injuries.
"It's not a very populous area, but the people in the adjacent buildings are mostly fine and have been evacuated," said Cooper.
Jeff Pegues, chief Justice and Homeland Security correspondent for CBS News, reports that federal resources are pouring into the scene. Sources tell him that the ATF has certified fire investigators and certified explosives specialists on site, and that the ATF staff are also working outside the company to create a schedule for the incident.
A Justice Department spokesman said acting attorney general Jeff Rosen had "ordered that all DOJ resources be made available to support the investigation."
A White House spokesman said President Trump had been briefed on the explosion and will continue to receive regular updates. "The president is grateful for the incredible first responders and prays for the injured," said assistant secretary Judd Deere in a statement.
President-elect Biden has also been briefed on the situation, his office said.
Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen has "ordered that all DOJ resources be made available to support the investigation," said a Justice Department spokesman.
Immediately after the explosion, firefighters urged everyone in the area to move at least two blocks away because they were concerned about possible other explosions.
The subway police and the highway police "shut down" the city center "while we are assessing this overall situation," said the police spokesman.
Photo from across the river by @ NC5's @KevWisniewski pic.twitter.com/AdrUZ1GXHh
- Phil Williams (@ NC5PhilWilliams) December 25, 2020
"Right now, it's a public safety concern to make sure everyone is covered and that the fire does not spread any further," Michael Knight, a spokesman for the ATF in Nashville, told The Associated Press.
Buck McCoy, who lives near the area, said his house's windows were completely blown out.
"All of my windows, every single one of them was blown into the next room. If I had stood there it would have been terrible," he told The Associated Press.
"It felt like a bomb. It was so big."
CBS News digital producer Roman Feeser said he heard and felt the explosion at his East Nashville home, three and a half miles from the site of the explosion.
"It woke us up at 6:30 am and got the dogs frenzied," he said.
Rescue workers work at the site of an explosion in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, on December 25, 2020. / Photo credit: Mark Humphrey / AP
The Associated Press contributed to the coverage.
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