Authorities in Tennessee on Sunday named a 63-year-old Nashville resident as the perpetrator of the Christmas morning bombing that injured three people and destroyed sections of the city’s historic downtown.
Anthony Quinn Warner, an information technology contractor from the south-eastern suburb of Antioch, instigated and was killed in the explosion, according to law enforcement sources at an evening press briefing.
“Warner is the bomber,” Don Cochran, US attorney for the middle district of Tennessee, said. “He was present when the bomb went off, and he perished in the bombing.”
Investigators matched DNA from human tissue found at the site to samples collected from a vehicle used by Warner, according to David Rausch, director of the Tennessee bureau of investigation.
Additional identification was made possible from clues found at the scene of Friday’s explosion, which took place at a facility owned by the telecommunications company AT&T, and which knocked out or impaired mobile phone services in several other cities.
Douglas Korneski, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis field office, said a vehicle identification number found in the wreckage was from an RV motorhome that was used as a mobile bomb, and was registered to Warner.
“There is no indication that any other persons were involved,” Korneski said. “We reviewed hours of security video surrounding the recreational vehicle, we saw no other people involved.”
Warner had earlier Sunday been named as a person of interest in the explosion that took place outside a facility owned by the telecommunications company AT&T and which knocked out or impaired mobile phone services in several other cities.
Agents from the FBI and the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives (ATF) have spent the weekend searching the home of Warner, who once owned a company specializing in burglar alarms.
Rausch told reporters on Sunday that Warner had not been on the radar before Christmas.
Teams of investigators continue to comb the site of the bombing on Sunday for clues and a curfew in the center of the city was extended.
Earlier a Nashville television news channel reported that Warner worked as an IT consultant for a real estate company, Fridrich and Clark.
Steve Fridrich, a realtor who contacted the FBI after hearing the man’s name on a news bulletin, told WSMV that federal agents had asked him if Warner had a paranoia about 5G technology.
Promoted by the rightwing cult movement QAnon, among others, the conspiracy theory makes wild claims about 5G, the next generation technology that delivers high speed internet access to mobile phone networks. As well as believing 5G is a spying tool of the deep state, theorists claim the technology causes cancer and helps spread coronavirus.
Research by The Tennessean newspaper, meanwhile, revealed that Warner registered as the owner of the business Custom Alarms and Electronics in 1993, and was involved in a recently settled legal dispute with his family over property ownership.
“[He was] kind of low key to the point of, I don’t know, I guess some people would say he’s a little odd. He was kind of a computer geek that worked at home,” Warner’s next-door neighbor, Steve Schmoldt, told the newspaper.
Earlier on Sunday, the mayor of Nashville appeared to indicate that the 5G conspiracy theory could be relevant to the investigation. “To all of us locally, it feels like there has to be some connection with the AT&T facility and the site of the bombing,” John Cooper said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “That’s just local insight, because it’s got to have something to do with the infrastructure.”
Cooper has been liaising closely with federal and local law enforcement agencies conducting the investigation, and also the Republican Tennessee governor Bill Lee, who has asked Donald Trump for a federal disaster declaration.
The president, meanwhile, was playing golf in Florida on Sunday and the White House had not responded to Lee’s request.
Officers describe arriving at the scene
The blast occurred early on Christmas morning as police officers, called to the scene by reports of gunshots, attempted to evacuate local residents. A sinister recording blaring from the RV featuring a woman’s voice, interspersed with snippets of music, warned that an explosion was imminent.
Two officers suffered non life-threatening injuries as the blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s central tourist district.
Several of the officers who attended the incident spoke at an emotional press conference on Sunday. James Wells, who suffered hearing loss in the blast, broke down in tears as he recalled the events of the morning.
“I just see orange and then I hear a loud boom. As I’m stumbling, I just tell myself to stay on my feet and stay alive,” Wells said, adding that he believed he heard God tell him to walk away moments before the explosion.
“This is going to tie us together forever for the rest of my life. Christmas will never be the same.”
Fellow officer Amanda Topping said she initially parked her police cruiser beside the RV before moving it after hearing the recording. Topping said she called her wife to say “things were just really strange” as she moved people away from the vehicle.
She said she heard the announcement switch to a recording of Petula Clark’s 1964 hit Downtown, and moments later the RV exploded. “I felt the waves of heat but I just kind of lost it and started sprinting toward [Wells],” she said. “I’ve never grabbed someone so hard in my life.”
Civil and emergency communications networks in Nashville and several other cities, including Louisville, Knoxville, Birmingham and Atlanta, were affected.
AT&T said Sunday it was rerouting service to other facilities as the company worked to restore its heavily damaged building. The company said in a statement that it was bringing in resources to help recover affected voice and data services and expects to have 24 additional trailers of disaster recovery equipment at the site by the end of the day.
Cooper signed a civil emergency declaration for areas of Nashville affected by the explosion, including a curfew.
Associated Press contributed to this report