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Person Responsible For Nashville's Christmas Day Blast Is Identified


In Nashville, authorities have now determined the identity of the Christmas morning bomber. On Sunday afternoon, investigators gathered just a few blocks from the blast zone to announce a breakthrough.


DON COCHRAN: Based on the evidence that we've gathered at this point, we've come to the conclusion that an individual named Anthony Warner is the bomber. He was present when the bomb went off and that he perished in the bombing.

GREENE: All right. That is U.S. Attorney Donald Cochran. Warner, we should say, built a bomb that destroyed a block of historic downtown buildings. And NPR's John Burnett is in Nashville following this story. John, good morning.


GREENE: I mean, this investigation seemed to go pretty quickly. How did they do this?

BURNETT: Well, luck and old-fashioned police work. First, they set up a tip line. Then they released a picture from a surveillance video that showed Warner's white RV with the blue stripe down the side driving downtown right before the blast. And people apparently recognized the RV and called it in. Second, forensic investigators found human remains at the blast site. Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation were able to match DNA from the human tissue with DNA taken from inside of a duplex that Warner owned and lived in. It's in Antioch, a suburb southeast of Nashville. And finally, a Tennessee highway patrol officer combing the debris field found a piece of the demolished vehicle with the VIN number on it, and they were able to use that to find out the RV was registered to Anthony Q. Warner.

GREENE: Wow. It does seem like old-fashioned police work. Do - are they certain now that he acted alone, he was a lone bomber?

BURNETT: Well, here's the conclusion of FBI special agent in charge Doug Korneski.


DOUG KORNESKI: We're still following leads, but right now, there is no indication that any other persons were involved. We've reviewed hours of security video surrounding the recreational vehicle as well - we saw no other people involved.

BURNETT: And then police chief John Drake, who's a 32-year veteran of the force, made this statement for the benefit of his hometown, which was deeply unnerved by this ordeal.


JOHN DRAKE: As I've said earlier and several times before, Nashville is considered safe. There are no known threats against this city.

GREENE: OK, so we know who the bomber is now. We know that he acted alone. What about a motive here?

BURNETT: Well, that's the missing link now, David. The FBI is asking anyone who knew Warner to please reach out and help them understand why this man would commit this monstrous act. He was not on the FBI's radar as an extremist, hadn't made any threats, didn't espouse a particular political philosophy they were aware of. Media reports say he was a self-employed IT specialist. Some folks here wonder if he had a bone to pick with AT&T. He parked the motor home directly in front of a major AT&T data center. And then that huge blast knocked out telecom services for hundreds of miles. The company says it's gradually bringing service back on. The mayor told CBS' "Face The Nation" yesterday that locals feel like there has to be some connection with the AT&T facility and the site of the bombing. But we don't know yet if that's true.

GREENE: But it wasn't just that AT&T facility, right? I mean, this was really destructive. Like, what does it look like downtown right now?

BURNETT: Well, the crime scene looks like the aftermath of a car bombing I witnessed in Baghdad - a blast crater, the holes of burned cars, blackened buildings, landscaping trees torn apart. It's just the picture of violence and ruination. Officials have asked the federal government to help the city rebuild that shattered area.

GREENE: And we're starting to hear now from some of the officers who first responded to this explosion. I mean, what are they saying?

BURNETT: Well, you need to remember that only seven people, including some of the police, were taken to the hospital with non-critical injuries. And people are calling it miraculous. The only fatality was the culprit. Today, those cops are being hailed as heroes. Knowing the RV could explode at any moment, they raced into these nearby apartment buildings and pounded on doors to get residents to evacuate. The five police described how a speaker inside the RV was playing these eerie recordings over and over warning folks to get out because there was a bomb inside and then ominously counting down to the blast and playing the British singer Petula Clark's 1964 hit "Downtown," of all things. Here's Metropolitan Nashville Police Officer Amanda Topping.


AMANDA TOPPING: You just have a feeling something's not right. And something that weird, you don't get stuff like that. So I was standing there by my car, and I heard music just came on. I went to go get closer and I heard it and I was like, oh, my gosh.

GREENE: God, these descriptions just bring you there to what happened. What else did these officers say?

BURNETT: Well, Officer James Wells said he was creeped out, too. When the blast nearly knocked him over, his immediate reaction was to check on Officer Topping.


JAMES WELLS: As I turn around, for me, it felt like I only took three steps and then the music stopped. I just see orange, and then I hear a loud boom. Because it rocked me that hard, I start tumbling. I just tell myself to stay on your feet, stay alive, and I just take out in a full-out sprint and I'm running toward Topping to make sure she's OK.

BURNETT: I have to tell you, David, several of police choked up as they described how they feared for their fellow officers. And I'll give the last word again to Officer James Wells, who experienced the 2020 Christmas bombing, and the way that soldiers bond after being in combat.


WELLS: So this is going to tie us together forever, for the rest of life. And so, you know, the love for them is even bigger now. And Christmas will never be the same for any of us.

GREENE: Wow. That's just extraordinary, these events in Nashville. NPR's John Burnett, thank you so much for covering it.

BURNETT: You bet, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.