Mystery surrounds the motivation behind the detonation of an apparent bomb on the streets of downtown Nashville that rocked Tennessee’s biggest city on Christmas morning as investigators continued to comb the wreckage for clues.
Three people were lightly injured in the blast and some possible human remains have been found near the site of the RV that exploded and caused serious damage to Nashville’s historic core. But it is not clear if or how the remains are linked to the incident.
What is certain is the bizarre nature of the attack.
Police were responding to an early morning report of shots fired when they encountered the RV blaring a recorded warning that a bomb would detonate in 15 minutes, Metro Nashville police chief John Drake said. Police evacuated nearby buildings and called in the bomb squad. The RV exploded shortly afterward.
Police believe the blast was intentional but don’t yet know a motive or target, and Drake noted that officials had not received any threats before the explosion.
The chief said investigators at the scene “have found tissue that we believe could be remains, but we’ll have that examined and let you know at that time.” Police could not say whether it potentially came from someone inside the RV.
Three people taken to area hospitals for treatment were in stable condition Friday evening, Nashville mayor John Cooper said.
“This morning’s attack on our community was intended to create chaos and fear in this season of peace and hope. But Nashvillians have proven time and time again that the spirit of our city cannot be broken,” Cooper said at a news conference after issuing a curfew for the area.
The blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene, an area packed with honky-tonks, restaurants and shops. Buildings shook and windows shattered streets away from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T that lies one block from the company’s office tower, a landmark in downtown.
On Saturday morning teams of experts were still collecting debris from a wide area of the blast site. The damage to the AT&T building has prompted some speculation that it was the target of the attack.
“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. He said earlier that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give details.
AT&T said the affected building is the central office of a telephone exchange, with network equipment in it. The blast interrupted service, but the company declined to say how widespread outages were.
The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky. Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Knox County, home to Knoxville about 180 miles (290km) east of Nashville.
AT&T said that it was bringing in portable cell sites and was working with law enforcement to get access to make repairs to its equipment. The company noted that “power is essential to restoring” service.
The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion.
The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.