A powerful explosion ripped through part of Nashville’s historic downtown entertainment district early Christmas morning after a recording blasted from an RV warning people to leave the area.
Metro Nashville Police circulated an image of the RV that they said arrived outside of an AT&T facility on 2nd Avenue North at 1:22 a.m., though the daughter of a local boutique hotel owner tweeted that her family business’ security camera showed the RV there for a day and a half before the blast.
Officials said the explosion is believed to be “intentional” and there was no known credible Christmas threat before the blast. Possible human remains were reportedly found in the vicinity of the explosion, though it was not immediately known if these could be a perpetrator or victim.
Police initially responded to a report of shots fired in the area just before 6 a.m., yet found no sign of a shooting. They encountered an RV that was blaring for about 15 minutes, on loop, an automated female voice stating, “All buildings in this area must be evacuated now. If you can hear this message, evacuate now.”
Officers began evacuating nearby buildings and called in the bomb squad, which had not arrived before the RV exploded. Three people suffering minor injuries. Police spokesman Don Aaron said behavioral health personnel were also working with the officers who rushed to evacuate people in residential areas on 2nd Avenue as “they went through a very traumatic experience themselves.”
“We think lives were saved by those officers,” Aaron said.
A nearby business owner and resident told the Tennessean that she heard rapid-fire gunshots at 4:30 a.m and called 911. The explosion, which ruptured water mains and shattered windows, was heard miles away from the blast site.
“There were a number of people who did evacuate and then we know of some people, it didn’t go off when the message said it would and so people started coming back in, and then it went off,” Nashville Vice Mayor Jim Shulman told CNN.
Aaron said officials did not think there were any other devices or dangers in the downtown area, but were doing sweeps with bomb detection K9s.
“We do not know whether anyone was in the RV when it exploded,” he told reporters.
AT&T reported some service interruptions due to damage at their facility. Widespread 911 issues were reported in the area and AT&T internet and phone services were disrupted in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. Flights out of Nashville were temporarily grounded because of telecommunications problems at Nashville International Airport.
“We are in contact with law enforcement and working as quickly and safely as possible to restore service,” company spokesman Jim Greer said.
The FBI and ATF, which activated its national response team, were taking lead on the investigation. FBI Special Agent in Charge Matt Foster would not elaborate on leads in an afternoon press conference, and encouraged the public to submit online tips at fbi.gov/nashville. “Please tell us what you know,” Foster said. “We need your leads. We need your help.”
The Department of Homeland Security tweeted this afternoon, “We are aware of and monitoring the situation in Nashville. Public is urged to follow instructions from local officials. More to follow.”
Officials were reviewing footage from downtown cameras. The Nashville Fire Department was searching buildings to ensure no one else was harmed in the blast, and deployed structural engineers to assess damage to buildings.
Aaron told reporters that “several buildings on 2nd Avenue have structural damage.”
BREAKING: This is the RV that exploded on 2nd Ave N this morning. It arrived on 2nd Ave at 1:22 a.m. Have you seen this vehicle in our area or do you have information about it? Please contact us via Crime Stoppers at 615-742-7463 or online via https://t.co/dVGS7o0m4v. @ATFHQ pic.twitter.com/JNx9sDinAH
— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) December 25, 2020