NASHVILLE—Federal agents zeroed in on a Nashville home on Saturday and began sifting through at least 500 leads after an explosion rocked the city’s downtown on Christmas Day, injuring three people, damaging dozens of historic buildings, and plunging much of the city into a panic as communications went down.
The vehicle detonated around 6:30 a.m. on Christmas morning in what police have called an “intentional act.” Officers responded to a call that shots were fired in the area, where they found an RV playing a recording warning that a bomb would detonate “in 15 minutes.” The six local officers who rushed to evacuate sleeping residents were hailed as “heroes” for saving the lives of civilians.
U.S. Attorney Don Cochran confirmed on Sunday that 63-year old Anthony Quinn Warner, who'd previously been identified as a person of interest, “is the bomber. He was present when the bomb went off, and he perished in the bombing.”
While questions swirled about the circumstances of the bombing, Warner’s neighbors on Bakertown Road were rattled by the sudden police activity and floored by the idea that he could have been involved in the explosion.
“They are one of the best families that anyone could ever want to meet,” Bernice Gilley, who said she has known the Warner family since she and her husband moved onto the street 56 years ago, told The Daily Beast.
Like most of the people on this stretch of Bakertown, Gilley and her husband were shocked when the local and federal agents showed up on Saturday morning. Gilley worried that Warner's mother had fallen or been injured. She told her husband to go check on the older woman, but the agents stopped him and told him that Anthony Warner was a person of interest in the bombing.
The Gilleys were stunned by that news. “I’m really worried about her still,” Gilley said. “She’s a very good friend.”
One decades-long resident who knew the Warner family didn’t even know Anthony existed before the law enforcement agents arrived and started asking questions.
His current neighbors agreed that Warner was very quiet. “He is a very private person,” one told The Daily Beast. “As you can see, his whole house is fenced in.”
Neighbors had noticed that the RV had gone missing shortly before Christmas. A few of the kids on the street saw the pictures of the RV online and asked their parents if it could be the same one that Warner had, but no one really believed it was.
The home was transferred from Warner to a woman through a quitclaim deed just four weeks ago, according to public records. The woman, Michelle Swing, told The Daily Mail she paid nothing for the house.
“In the state of Tennessee you can deed property to someone else without their consent or their signature or anything,” Swing was quoted saying. “I didn’t even buy the house he just deeded it over to me without my knowledge. So this all very weird to me, that’s about all I can say.”
Swing did not clarify what her connection to Warner was, if any. Neighbors interviewed by The Daily Beast said they knew nothing about the home getting a new owner.
But a second home on Bakertown Road was also transferred from Warner to Swing by quitclaim deed last year. The records list Warner as unmarried.
Davidson County records showed that Warner was found guilty on an unspecified felony charge in 1980 following an arrest in January 1978.
The Daily Beast’s attempts to reach those listed in property records were unsuccessful.
More than 24 hours after the blast tore through the city, residents were still left grappling for answers.
The three people injured in the explosion were all reportedly discharged from the hospital on Friday, and authorities repeatedly emphasized one point throughout their briefing on Saturday: The city will continue to function, even as it remains under curfew and dealing with power outages.
In addition to emergency services and cell phone services being down in many parts of the city after the blast, internet and television reception was also down throughout the area, and some businesses were left unable to process credit card transactions. At least 41 businesses were damaged, according to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who said it was “a miracle that no residents were killed.”
An AT&T central office was also affected by the blast, with one fire reigniting overnight, leading to an evacuation of the building, CBS News reported.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake stressed on Saturday that “Nashville is safe,” and FBI Special Agent in Charge Doug Korneski said there was “no indication” of secondary threats.
The events of this weekend were particularly harrowing for the people living near Warner on Bakertown Road. Most of the other brick duplexes on his street are filled with refugees and immigrants who had come to the United States fleeing violence in Iraq, Africa, and Latin America. For them, the explosion sends them back to a reality they tried desperately to leave behind forever.
“It’s too much,” said one woman who asked to speak anonymously. “I just can’t get over it.”
“There are people in the world that walk outside and think they are going to step on a bomb,” her friend agreed. “It’s really scary when you think you got away from it and came to freedom, and then this happens. I guess you just never know what could happen in your neighborhood.”
Although the neighbors want a resolution to the bombing, they expressed hope that Warner was not actually involved, brainstorming innocent explanations while watching federal agents conduct their raid: Perhaps he drove his RV to the mountains for the holiday, or maybe he sold his RV and went on a vacation.
“We haven’t seen anything suspicious,” one of them said.