A large explosion that rocked downtown Nashville early on Christmas morning appears to have been an “intentional act”, according to local police, as the FBI announced it would lead the investigation into a blast that caused severe damage and left three people with non-critical injuries.
Images from the city’s entertainment district showed multiple buildings with windows blown out and masonry and rubble scattered in the street, and several burnt-out vehicles. Earlier images showed flames and smoke, and what appeared to be the charred remains of a recreational vehicle.
A spokesman for Metro Nashville police department, Don Aaron, said police responded to a call of shots fired just before 6am but found no immediate signs of a shooting, although officers noticed a suspicious vehicle and called for a hazardous unit. While they waited, the vehicle exploded.
The FBI will be taking the lead role in the investigation, said spokesman Joel Siskovic, while investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have also begun to comb the scene for evidence.
Donald Trump has been briefed, according to the White House spokesman Judd Deere, who said that the president, who is spending the holidays in Florida, will continue to receive regular updates. The US justice department said the acting attorney general, Jeff Rosen, was also briefed and directed all department resources be made available to help with the investigation.
Earlier in the day, Nashville police said they responded to an area near Second Avenue and Commerce Street in the city about 6.45am on Friday. “MNPD [Metropolitan Nashville police department], FBI & ATF investigating the 6:30am explosion on 2nd Ave N linked to a vehicle. This appears to have been an intentional act. Law enforcement is closing downtown streets as investigation continues,” alerted Nashville’s metro police department.
According to reports in the Tennessean, the blast was felt for miles and triggered a response from a police bomb squad as well as firefighters and other state and federal law enforcement officials.
“The explosion was significant, as you can see, the police department, its federal partners – the FBI and ATF – are conducting a large-scale investigation to this point,” said Nashville’s police spokesman. “We do believe that the explosion was an intentional act.”
Police later said the incident was linked to a vehicle parked outside a fondue restaurant, the Melting Pot, and investigators said an RV was involved.
The owner of the nearby Nashville Downtown hostel told the paper guests were evacuated to Nissan Stadium for shelter. He said he got a call early on Friday from his staff reporting hearing a “loud boom” and the fire alarm going off.
The Metro Nashville office of emergency management told the Nashville television station WKRN that a parked recreational vehicle exploded and damaged several buildings.
Nashville’s mayor, John Cooper, urged people to stay away from the downtown area, as police and federal authorities launched their investigation. Cooper said the city was lucky that the number of injuries was limited.
Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee said on Twitter that the state would provide the resources necessary “to determine what happened and who was responsible”.
Andrew McCabe, a former deputy FBI director, told CNN that an explosion of this size would be investigated as a possible act of terrorism. He said it was possible police were the target of the explosions given they were answering a report of a suspicious vehicle when it blew up.
Buck McCoy, who lives near the area, posted videos on Facebook that show water pouring down the ceiling of his home. Alarms blare in the background and cries of people in great distress ring in the background. A fire is visible in the street outside.
McCoy said the windows of his home were entirely blown out. “All my windows, every single one of them got blown into the next room. If I had been standing there it would have been horrible,” he said.
“It felt like a bomb. It was that big,” he told the Associated Press. “There were about four cars on fire. I don’t know if it was so hot they just caught on fire, and the trees were all blown apart,” McCoy added.
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