Witness recalls chilling warning before explosion in Nashville that damages 20 buildings, injures 3.
Yihyun Jeong, Brinley Hineman and Joshua Bote, Nashville TennesseanFri, December 25, 2020, 7:47 PM GMT+1
NASHVILLE – The FBI was leading an investigation Friday into an explosion that erupted in downtown early Christmas morning, an incident that rattled residents for miles and is being called “intentional” by authorities.
Police were responding to reports of shots fired near Second Avenue and Commerce Street before 6 a.m. when they saw a suspicious RV outside a nearby AT&T building.
Officers alerted the department’s bomb squad, which was en route, when a “significant explosion” happened about 30 minutes later, Metro police spokesperson Don Aaron said. The force of the explosion knocked an officer to the ground.
Betsy Williams, the owner of The Melting Pot, a restaurant across the street from the explosion, told The Tennessean that guests reported the RV was stationed there since Thursday night.
Williams, who lives in a loft apartment on the third floor of the restaurant building, said she heard the sound of loud, rapid-fire gunshots at about 4:30 a.m. After multiple rounds of gunshot sounds, Williams said she called 911. Then, she said, she heard a repeated warning she said came from the RV parked outside her building.
“Evacuate now. There is a bomb. A bomb is in this vehicle and will explode,” she remembers the recorded warning saying. Then, she said, the voice started a 15-minute countdown.
Her family headed to Nissan Stadium, about a half-mile away and waited. When they didn’t hear an explosion, they headed back. That was when they saw a fireball fly over the AT&T building on Second Avenue.
“Whoever did it did give fair warning,” Williams said.
Three people were hospitalized with injuries, police said. None are in critical condition. At least 20 buildings were damaged, Nashville Mayor John Cooper said. It was unclear whether anyone was inside the RV when it exploded.
Nashville Metro Police were going door-to-door with canines in the downtown areas to search nearby buildings and automobiles, though there is no indication of any additional devices.