FBI leading RV explosion investigation, authorities believe it was intentional

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) — Nashville’s mayor said the initial evidence of a Christmas morning blast in the city’s downtown was “a deliberate bomb,” and the FBI is asking the public’s help related to an RV at the center of the investigation.

“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,” Mayor John Cooper said at a news conference after issuing a curfew for the area.

Three people were injured and human tissue was found at the scene.

“We have found tissue that we believe could be remains,” John Drake, Chief of Police Metro Nashville Police Department said in a Friday evening briefing, but wasn’t able to confirm if a body was found.

At the center of the investigation is an RV that was parked downtown at 1:22 a.m. (CST). Officers were called to the scene later in the morning to a call of shots fired.

Courtesy: Metro Nashville PD via Twitter

“Officers encountered an RV that had a recording saying that a potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes. Upon hearing that, officers decided to evacuate the buildings nearby,” Drake said. “Shortly after that the RV exploded.”

Surveillance video published on a Twitter account Friday that appeared to be across the street from the blast captured the warning issuing from the RV, “… if you can hear this message, evacuate now,” seconds before the explosion.

The department’s Hazardous Devices Unit was called to check the RV, but the vehicle exploded outside an AT&T transmission building, knocking out cellphone and internet connections to customers throughout the area, 911 services and caused issues to air traffic controllers at Nashville’s airport.

Drake said there weren’t any known threats to the city. He called it a “total surprise.”

At least three people suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were transported to local hospitals, the Nashville Fire Department said. Mayor Cooper said all three are in stable condition.

[From Top L to Bottom R] Officer Brenna Hosey, Officer Richard Luellen, Officer Michael Sipos, Officer Amanda Topping, Officer James Wells, Sergeant Timothy Miller. (Source: Metro Nashville Police Department)

Explosion knocks communications offline

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 east of Nashville.

Tennessee Emergency management released alternative phone numbers for 911 services:

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 International Airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion.

The destruction of the blast

Black smoke and flames were seen early Friday billowing from the area, which is packed with bars, restaurants and other retail establishments and is known as the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene.

“Forty-one businesses materially damaged by this blast,” Cooper said. “There will be others.”

Police close off an area damaged by an explosion on Christmas morning on December 25, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. A Hazardous Devices Unit was en route to check on a recreational vehicle which then exploded, extensively damaging some nearby buildings. According to reports, the police believe the explosion to be intentional, with at least 3 injured and human remains found in the vicinity of the explosion. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard.

“Given 2020 we’re not sure how we would wake up on Christmas Day, but yeah this is not the way we thought we would wake up,” said Sunny Fleming, who awoke to the blast. “We felt and heard it at the house.”

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.

“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,” he said.

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The downtown area will remain shutdown while Metro Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and other agencies investigate. The mayor also issued a curfew in the area.

President Donald Trump has been briefed, according to White House spokesperson Judd Deere, who said that Trump, who is spending the holidays in Florida, will continue to receive regular updates.

President-elect Joe Biden has also been briefed.

“The president-elect and Dr. Biden thank all the first responders working today in response to the incident, and wish those who were injured a speedy recovery,” the transition team said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department said Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen was also briefed and directed all department resources be made available to help with the investigation.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter that the state would provide the resources necessary “to determine what happened and who was responsible. Please join @MariaLeeTN and me in praying for those who were injured and we thank all of our first responders who acted so quickly this morning.”

Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 615-742-7463.

The FBI has also established a digital tip line for anyone with information about the explosion. Those who prefer to call can do so by dialing 1-800-CALL-FBI.

The American Red Cross of Tennessee announced that it was working with officials to open a shelter for victims.

Earlier briefings

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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NewsNation affiliate WKRN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.