Authorities in Tennessee on Sunday named a 63-year-old Nashville resident as a person of interest in the Christmas morning bombing that injured three people and destroyed sections of the city’s historic downtown.
The Nashville police chief John Drake linked Anthony Quinn Warner, from the south eastern suburb of Antioch, to the explosion that took place outside a facility owned by the telecommunications company AT&T and knocked out or impaired mobile phone services in several other cities.
Investigators are reportedly examining whether a suicide bomber with a fear of 5G technology could be behind the attack. Agents from the FBI and the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives (ATF) spent the weekend searching the home of Warner, an information technology worker who once owned a company specializing in burglar alarms.
Warner also owned an RV motorhome similar to the one that detectives believe was turned into a mobile bomb and driven to the scene.
Teams of investigators continued to comb the site of the bombing on Sunday for clues as more details emerged about the person of interest. A Nashville television news channel reported that Warner worked as an IT consultant for a real estate company, Fridrich and Clark.
According to WSMV, sources close to the law enforcement investigation have said that among the various tips and lines of inquiry was one that suggested Warner bought into a conspiracy theory that 5G technology was being used to spy on Americans.
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.
An FBI spokesperson said Saturday that human remains were retrieved from the site of the explosion, and that the agency was not actively looking for any more suspects. DNA results on the human tissue was expected shortly, which authorities say are expected to match Warner’s.
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.
Douglas Korneski, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis field office, said that hundreds of agents were sifting through at least 500 tips and leads, and that it was too soon to focus on any particular theory.
“It’s just going to take us some time,” he said at a Saturday evening press conference. “We’re looking at every possible motive [and] our investigative team is turning over every stone.”
Asked whether the AT&T building could have been a possible target, Korneski said, “We’re looking at every possible motive that could be involved.” 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