2020 Nashville bombing

On December 25, 2020, Anthony Quinn Warner detonated a recreational vehicle (RV) bomb in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, United States, killing himself, injuring eight people and damaging dozens of buildings.[3][4][5] It took place at 166 Second Avenue North between Church Street and Commerce Street at 6:30 am, adjacent to an AT&T network hub, resulting in days-long communication service outages.

2020 Nashville bombing
SecondAvenueCommercialDistrictNashville.jpg
The bombing occurred on this block of the Second Avenue Commercial District.
Location166 Second Avenue North
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Coordinates36°09′50″N 86°46′35″W / 36.16389°N 86.77639°W / 36.16389; -86.77639Coordinates: 36°09′50″N 86°46′35″W / 36.16389°N 86.77639°W / 36.16389; -86.77639
DateDecember 25, 2020 (2020-12-25)
6:30 am CST (12:30 UTC)
TargetUnknown
Attack type
Suicide car bombing
WeaponCar bomb
Deaths1 (the perpetrator)[1]
Injured8
PerpetratorAnthony Quinn Warner[1]
MotiveUnknown (under investigation)[2]

People near the RV heard gunshots, and loudspeakers on the RV warned them to evacuate before the bombing, which was felt miles away.[3][6][7] The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) determined that Warner, a Nashville resident, was the bomber and acted alone.[1][8]

BombingEdit

External video
  Nashville explosion on Christmas Day captured on police video, YouTube video

The explosion was caused by a car bomb carried in a Thor Motor Coach Chateau RV that parked[9] outside an AT&T transmission building on Second Avenue North in downtown Nashville at 1:22 am on December 25, 2020.[10] Four to five hours after the RV arrived, people nearby were awakened by the sound of rapid gunfire in at least three bursts, followed by a computerized female voice broadcasting over a public address system: "All buildings in this area must be evacuated now. If you can hear this message, evacuate now."[3][10][11][12][13][14] "Stay clear of this vehicle", "Do not approach this vehicle", and "Your primary objective is to evacuate these buildings now" were also among the messages broadcast from the RV.[14] The broadcast warned that there was a bomb in the vehicle, a 15-minute countdown elapsed,[10][13] and the speakers switched to snippets from the 1964 song "Downtown" by Petula Clark.[15][16]

Responding to reports of shots being fired at around 5:30 am, two police officers arrived at the area. Though they did not hear any shots, they discovered the parked vehicle and heard the warning.[7][17] They and three other responding officers subsequently evacuated homes in the area and called in reinforcements, including the hazardous devices unit, while a sixth officer stayed on the street to redirect pedestrians.[3][17][18] Two of the officers investigated the RV at one point and observed a camera positioned above its rearview mirror.[17] The vehicle exploded at 6:30 am, while the bomb squad was on its way to the area.[3][19]

Eight people were treated at hospitals for injuries and later discharged.[4] Three of them sustained non-critical injuries, including two of the officers who had been evacuating residents.[20][21][22] The bomber died at the scene, while no other fatalities were reported.[1][19]

Damage and service outagesEdit

One video posted to social media appears to show debris from the bombing landing on a building about two blocks away from the initial location.[23] At least three vehicles burned after the bombing,[3] at least 41 businesses were damaged, and one building located across the street, away from the site of the bombing, collapsed.[3][10] Structural engineers deemed some of the buildings in the area to be safe by December 29.[24]

 
The AT&T building in front of which the bombing occurred, pictured in 2009

The bombing caused structural and infrastructure damage to a nearby AT&T service facility, which contained a telephone exchange with network equipment in it, resulting in AT&T service outages across the U.S., primarily in Middle Tennessee.[25] Although the facility's backup generators were rendered nonfunctional because of fire and water damage, communication services initially remained uninterrupted while the facility was able to run on battery power.[26] However, outages were reported hours after the explosion, with significant service disruptions in the area by around noon.[25] Cellular, wireline telephone, internet, and U-verse television service were affected, as were multiple local 9-1-1 and non-emergency phone networks in the region, along with Nashville's COVID-19 community hotline and some hospital systems.[5][25][27] T-Mobile also reported interruptions to its service.[28] The Memphis Air Route Traffic Control Center experienced communication issues, leading the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ground flights from Nashville International Airport for about an hour.[29][30]

Outages continued to affect communication services, including Internet, phone, and 9-1-1 services, for days after the bombing.[31][32] Some stores reported switching to a cash-only policy because credit card systems were out of service, and issues with ATMs were reported.[33][34] AT&T mentioned deploying two mobile cell sites downtown by the next morning, with additional ones deployed throughout Nashville by evening, but it gave no specific timeline in regard to a full restoration of service, adding that a fire that reignited during the night led to an evacuation of the building.[32][33] Officials later said a full service restoration could take days.[20]

InvestigationEdit

After the bombing, a bomb squad, along with police and federal investigators, arrived at the site to gather evidence and determine what type of explosive was used in the blast.[23][35][36] Authorities swept the area and did not find any additional explosives.[35] Investigators found shell casings in the area but believed they were remnants of unfired ammunition that was destroyed in the explosion.[37] No evidence was found confirming gunshots were fired in the area despite the initial 9-1-1 calls.[38]

Human remains found near the site of the explosion were matched to the DNA found on gloves and a hat found in a car owned by Anthony Quinn Warner; a 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) reconstructed from the remains of the RV was also linked to Warner.[1][35][39][40] Investigators determined the act was a suicide bombing, and Mayor John Cooper called it an attack on infrastructure.[1][8] Hours of surveillance camera footage indicated that no one other than Warner was involved.[41] Warner's friends and family cooperated with investigators.[42]

The FBI field office in Memphis is leading the investigation, which also involved the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and local law enforcement agencies.[10][42] More than 250 FBI personnel from at least seven field offices were involved.[43] A reward for any information about the bombing was announced shortly into the investigation;[44] more than 500 tips and leads were received.[45]

PerpetratorEdit

Anthony Quinn Warner
 
FBI-published photo of Anthony Quinn Warner
Born(1957-01-17)January 17, 1957[46]
DiedDecember 25, 2020(2020-12-25) (aged 63)
Cause of deathSuicide bombing
NationalityAmerican
OccupationIndependent computer technician; burglar alarm company owner

Authorities concluded that 63-year-old Anthony Quinn Warner (January 17, 1957 – December 25, 2020), a longtime resident of Nashville,[47][48][49] was the bomber, that his remains were found in the wreckage, and that there was no indication anyone else was involved.[1][41][50] The FBI is probing Warner's motive.[2]

Warner was raised in Nashville's Antioch neighborhood and graduated from Antioch High School in the mid-1970s.[41] He worked in a series of information technology jobs,[41] including as an independent computer technician contracted with a real estate firm, and he had also owned a company licensed to produce burglar alarms from 1993 to 1998.[4][47][50] He served two years' probation for felony marijuana possession in 1978 but had no other arrests or criminal record.[41][42] Late in his life, Warner was involved in a family dispute that went to court, after he had transferred ownership of a family home to himself directly before his brother's death in 2018; the case was dismissed the following year.[39]

In the weeks leading up to the bombing, Warner quit his job, gave away his car, and executed a quitclaim deed transferring his Nashville duplex home to a Los Angeles woman for $0.[9][41] He had previously executed a quitclaim deed for a different Nashville house in 2019, transferring his interest in the home to the same woman.[51] Reportedly, Warner had told the woman to whom he gave his car that he had cancer, although whether he actually had cancer is not known. A neighbor said that just before Christmas, Warner had said that "Nashville and the world is never going to forget me."[52] Credit card and receipt records examined by investigators showed that Warner had purchased components that could be used to make bombs.[43][53]

Authorities initially said that Warner had not attracted the attention of police prior to the bombing.[1][47] However, it was later revealed that Warner's girlfriend, as well as her attorney, had met with police on August 21, 2019. The girlfriend said that Warner had been making bombs in the RV, and her attorney, who previously represented Warner, indicated that he believed her.[54][55][56] Police were unable to make contact with Warner; did not enter Warner's home, yard, or RV; and eventually closed the case as unfounded after an officer observing the home for a few days reported no evidence of bomb-making.[56][57] Following the visit, police forwarded an incident report to and requested a database check from the FBI.[58] Neither the FBI nor the Department of Defense found anything suspicious regarding Warner.[59][60]

Search for motivesEdit

Investigators searched Warner's home in Nashville after the bombing,[5] and several items were seized, including a computer and a portable storage device.[53] Google Street View images of his address appeared to show an RV similar to the one that was used in the bombing.[61][62] Neighbors of the property told WKRN-TV news that they recognized the RV in the image released by police, saying it had sat unused for years until its owner began giving it renewed attention about a month before the bombing, with it disappearing from the property days before the bombing.[63] Neighbors called him reclusive[50] and said they never discussed politics or religion with him.[41][47]

Warner is also "believed to have spent time hunting for alien life forms in a nearby state park."[43] The FBI said that, prior to the bombing, he "sent materials which espoused his viewpoints to several acquaintances throughout the country."[64][65] The packages, which the FBI is investigating, included writings in which he expresses belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories, moon landing conspiracy theories, and the reptilian conspiracy theory. He also referenced a UFO conspiracy theory in which space aliens had purportedly begun to attack Earth in September 2011, which was covered up by the media. He wrote, in part, "Everything is an illusion" and "there is no such thing as death".[66]

AftermathEdit

The Nashville Fire Department evacuated the downtown riverfront,[67][68] and Mayor Cooper issued a curfew for the affected area, which was lifted by December 28.[1] The FAA issued a notice declaring a circular area with a radius of 1 nautical mile (1.15 mi; 1.85 km), centered around the site of the bombing, as "National Defense Airspace", effective that afternoon and lasting for five days.[69] The bombing adversely affected many small business owners operating in the area, who were already dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state and the aftermath of a tornado that passed through the city in March 2020.[70]

The bombing revived a debate in the U.S. about which acts are labeled as terrorism and why.[71] Former national security prosecutor Alex Little and Nashville city councilor Bob Mendes said the bombing fit the definition of domestic terrorism. Federal investigators avoided using the term in the days following the bombing, with Special Agent in Charge Doug Korneski saying they had not yet established whether Warner had used violence to promote political or social beliefs.[72] Addressing the terrorism classification debate, a USA Today op-ed by Max Abrahms and Joseph Moroszczy pointed to an unprecedented combination of different types of terrorism that have made such a labeling difficult, including the intentional minimization of casualties seen from some left-wing groups and other organizations, and Warner's suicide and use of a car bomb seen in Islamic terrorist attacks, along with the lack of a manifesto or other clear evidence of a motive.[73] National security expert Dr. Erroll Southers told local news outlet WKRN-TV he saw similarities to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, given how Warner warned the public about the bomb and allowed the area to be evacuated before detonation.[74]

Subsequent suspicious vehiclesEdit

On the same day as the bombing, police in Cincinnati, Ohio, shut down streets downtown for a few hours while investigating an RV that appeared to have its engine running outside of a federal building, citing the Nashville incident as a reason for the high level of caution. The RV turned out to have a generator, which produced a sound reminiscent of a running engine.[75][76]

On December 27, a section of U.S. Highway 231 in nearby Wilson County, Tennessee, was shut down because a box truck was playing audio "similar to what was heard" before the bombing. The truck was travelling north from the Walterhill community in Rutherford County along Highway 231 when it was pulled over. The driver was arrested by the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department, and no explosives were found.[77] He was charged with two felony counts of filing a false report and one of tampering with evidence, and held on $500,000 bail.[78]

On December 31, police evacuated and cordoned off downtown Lexington, Kentucky, because of a suspicious RV parked in the area. An officer spotted the RV and, citing concerns ensuing from the Nashville bombing, brought in an explosives-sniffing dog to inspect it. The dog indicated that the RV contained explosives, prompting the evacuations. The scene was declared clear two hours later after no explosives were found and police had located the driver.[79]

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