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Nashville explosion that damaged dozens of downtown buildings is believed to be an intentional act

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According to police, officers with the Metro Nashville Police Department were responding to a call of shots fired around 5:30 a.m. CT Friday when they came upon an RV parked in front of an AT&T transmission building at 166 2nd Avenue North.

The RV was playing a recorded message that indicated a bomb would explode in 15 minutes, Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said during a news conference Friday.

Officers saw no immediate evidence of shots fired but they requested the department’s hazardous devices unit and started to evacuate neighborhood residents, police said.

The bomb squad was responding when the RV exploded at 6:30 a.m. CT, police spokesman Don Aaron said.

“We do believe this to have been an intentional act,” he said. “Significant damage has been done to the infrastructure there on 2nd Avenue North.”

Three people were transported to hospitals from the scene, but none were in critical condition, according to Nashville Fire spokesman Joseph Pleasant.

The force of the explosion knocked down one officer, Aaron said, and caused hearing loss in another — hopefully temporarily, he said. But no officers were significantly injured.

A vehicle is on fire after an explosion in Nasvhille on Friday, December 25, 2020.

The FBI told CNN that its field office in Memphis is taking over the investigation.

There were no known credible threats in the Nashville area that would have signaled an impending attack on or before Christmas, a federal law enforcement source told CNN.

A second law enforcement source said federal authorities are not aware of any increased chatter nationally by known extremist groups that would indicate any credible plans for conducting attacks around the holidays.

Acting US Attorney General Jeff Rosen was briefed on the incident early this morning, according to his spokesman, “and directed that all DOJ resources be made available to assist in the investigation.”

The White House said that President Donald Trump has been briefed on the incident as well and would receive “regular updates.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement on Twitter that the state would “supply all the resources needed” to determine the cause of the explosion.

‘Everything on the street was on fire’

Eyewitness Buck McCoy told CNN the explosion took place right in front of his home, causing his windows to be blown in.

“Everything on the street was on fire,” he said. “There were three cars that were fully engulfed.”

McCoy said he was originally woken up by what he believed were gunshots about 10 minutes prior to the explosion. He got up and looked out the window, he said, but went back to bed when he didn’t see anything.

Asked if the noise he heard could have been something other than gunfire, McCoy emphasized that he believed it was, saying he owns a gun and goes shooting, so he’s familiar with the sound of gunshots.

Emergency personnel work at the scene of the explosion.

Investigators are doing a secondary search of buildings downtown, particularly those on 2nd Avenue, to make sure no one is in need of help, Aaron said.

Prior to the explosion, officers had gone door-to-door or apartment-to-apartment to inform residents of the situation. One man walking a dog on 2nd Avenue was redirected by an officer just before the RV exploded, he said.

Officials do not know whether anyone was inside the vehicle when the explosion occurred, he said. Police are not aware of any other attempted explosions.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper told CNN that dozens of buildings have been damaged, mostly from having glass blown out. Some buildings have been evacuated, the mayor said, but he did not know how many buildings or how many people had been impacted.

“Right now, there’s just a whole lot of glass damage on 2nd Avenue,” he said.

The street is on the edge of the Tennessee city’s hospitality and tourist district in an old, historic part of town.

Smoke rises from downtown Nashville after an explosion.
Cooper told CNN affiliate WSMV that the explosion was “clearly done when no one was going to be around.”

“Fortunately not many people are here,” he said.

Footage from CNN affiliate WTVF showed smoke rising from a fire on the street, with debris littering the area.

McCoy told CNN that when he looked outside after the explosion, trees had fallen and broken glass was everywhere. He saw people filing out of their apartments with their animals. Firefighters told him to get as far away from the area as possible, he said.

“There’s just nothing left on 2nd Avenue,” he said.

CNN’s Paul P. Murphy, Evan Perez, Josh Campbell and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.

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