Police and federal agents in Nashville sought clues on Saturday to determine how and why a motor home was blown to pieces in an apparent bombing on Christmas Day that injured three people and damaged dozens of buildings in the heart of America’s country music capital.
The motor home, parked on a downtown street of Tennessee’s largest city, exploded at dawn on Friday moments after police responding to reports of gunfire in the area noticed the recreational vehicle and heard an automated message emanating from it warning of a bomb.
The means of detonation and whether anyone was inside the RV when it blew up were not immediately known, but investigators were examining what they believed might be human remains found in the vicinity of the blast, police said.
Police offered no possible motive, and there was no claim of responsibility, though Nashville Metropolitan Police Department officials called the blast an “intentional act” and vowed to determine its origin.
Agents of the FBI and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting in the probe.
“All the windows came in from the living room into the bedroom. The front door became unhinged,” Buck McCoy, who lives on the block where the blast occurred, told local TV station WKRN. “I had blood coming from my face and on my side and on my legs and a little bit on my feet.”
McCoy told CNN that he and some neighbors were returning to the area on Saturday in search of pets they had been forced to leave behind.
Adding to the cryptic nature of Friday’s incident was the eerie preamble described by witnesses - a crackle of gunfire followed an apparently computer-generated female voice from the RV reciting a minute-by-minute countdown to an impending explosion.
Police scrambled to evacuate nearby homes and buildings and called for a bomb squad, which was still en route to the scene when the RV blew up just outside an AT&T Inc office building where it had been parked.
Police later posted a photo of the motor home, which they said had arrived in the area about four hours prior to the explosion.
The fiery blast, heard for miles away, destroyed a number of other vehicles parked nearby, shattered windows and heavily damaged several adjacent buildings. Mayor John Cooper said a total of 41 businesses were damaged.
Fire officials said three people were taken to hospitals with relatively minor injuries and were listed in stable condition. Authorities said quick action by police to clear the area of bystanders likely prevented more casualties.
Police Chief John Drake said authorities had received no threats of an attack prior to the reports of gunfire at the outset of the incident.
The explosion occurred about two blocks from Lower Broadway, where some of Nashville’s famous live music venues are located. The Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry and just three blocks from the blast scene, was undamaged. The Gaylord Opryland and current Grand Ole Opry complexes, which sit outside the downtown area, were not impacted.
The explosion’s damage to AT&T’s facilities caused widespread telephone, internet and fiber-optic TV service outages in central Tennessee and parts of several neighboring states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.
AT&T’s efforts to restore services overnight were waylaid when a fire reignited at the company’s downtown office at the site of the blast, but AT&T said in a statement on Saturday that it was deploying portable cell sites to downtown Nashville and across the region.