NASHVILLE — It seemed like a friendly chat between neighbors. Only after a bomb exploded in downtown Nashville on Christmas morning could Rick Laude grasp the sinister meaning behind his neighbor’s smiling remark that the city and the rest of the world would never forget him.
Laude told The Associated Press on Monday that he was speechless when he learned that authorities identified his 63-year-old neighbor, Anthony Quinn Warner, as the man suspected of detonating a bomb that killed himself, injured three other people and damaged dozens of buildings.
Laude said he saw Warner standing at his mailbox less than a week before Christmas and pulled over in his car to talk. After asking how Warner’s elderly mother was doing, Laude said he casually asked, “Is Santa going to bring you anything good for Christmas?”
Warner smiled and said, “Oh, yeah, Nashville and the world is never going to forget me,” Laude recalled.
Laude said he didn’t think much of the remark and thought Warner only meant that “something good” was going to happen for him financially.
“Nothing about this guy raised any red flags,” Laude said. “He was just quiet.”
Laude said Warner sometimes did not respond when he and other neighbors waved to him, but said he did not take it personally. “I knew that he was just a recluse,” he said.
Warner left behind clues that suggest he planned the bombing and intended to kill himself, but a clear motive remained elusive.
“We hope to get an answer. Sometimes, it’s just not possible,” David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said Monday in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. “The best way to find motive is to talk to the individual. We will not be able to do that in this case.”
As investigators continued to search for a motive, body camera video released late Monday by Nashville police offered more insight to the moments leading up to the explosion and its aftermath.
The recording from Officer Michael Sipos’ camera captures officers walking past the RV parked across the street as the recorded warning blares and then helping people evacuate after the thunderous blast off camera. Car alarms and sirens wailed as a voice on the dispatcher calls for all available personnel and a roll call and people stumble through the downtown area littered with glass.
Investigators are analyzing Warner’s belongings collected during the investigation, including a computer and a portable storage drive, and continue to interview witnesses as they try to identify a motive for the explosion, a law enforcement official said. A review of his financial transactions also uncovered purchases of potential bomb-making components, the official said.
Warner had recently given away a vehicle and told the person he gave it to that he had been diagnosed with cancer, though it is unclear whether he indeed had cancer, the official said. Investigators used some items collected from the vehicle, including a hat and gloves, to match Warner’s DNA and DNA was taken from one of his family members, the official said.
The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Warner also apparently gave away his home in Antioch, a Nashville suburb, to a Los Angeles woman a month before the bombing. A property record dated Nov. 25 indicates Warner transferred the home to the woman in exchange for no money after living there for decades. The woman’s signature is not on that document.
Warner had worked as a computer consultant for Nashville real estate agent Steve Fridrich, who told the AP in a text message that Warner had said he was retiring earlier this month.
Officials said Warner had not been on their radar before Christmas. A law enforcement report released Monday showed that Warner’s only arrest was for a 1978 marijuana-related charge.
“It does appear that the intent was more destruction than death, but again that’s all still speculation at this point as we continue in our investigation with all our partners,” Rausch added.
Furthermore, officials have not provided insight into why Warner selected the particular location for the bombing, which damaged an AT&T building and wreaked havoc on cellphone service and police and hospital communications in several Southern states. By Monday, the company said the majority of services had been restored for residents and businesses.
Forensic analysts were reviewing evidence from the blast site to try to identify the components of the explosives as well as information from the U.S. Bomb Data Center for intelligence and investigative leads, according to a law enforcement official who said investigators were examining Warner’s digital footprint and financial history.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, said federal agents were examining a number of potential leads and pursuing several theories, including the possibility that the AT&T building was targeted.
Doug Korneski, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis field office, said Sunday that officials were looking at any and all motives and were interviewing acquaintances of Warner’s to try to determine what may have motivated him.
The bombing took place early on a holiday morning well before downtown streets were bustling with activity. Police were responding to a report of shots fired when they encountered the RV blaring a recorded warning that a bomb would detonate in 15 minutes. Then, for reasons that may never be known, the audio switched to a recording of Petula Clark’s 1964 hit “Downtown” shortly before the blast.
In addition to the DNA found at the blast site, investigators from the Tennessee Highway Patrol were able to link the vehicle identification number recovered from the wreckage to an RV registered to Warner, officials said.
“We’re still following leads, but right now there is no indication that any other persons were involved,” Korneski said. “We’ve reviewed hours of security video surrounding the recreation vehicle. We saw no other people involved.”
President-elect Joe Biden on Monday called the bombing “a reminder of the destructive power an individual or a small group can muster and the need for continued vigilance across the board.”
President Donald Trump hasn’t publicly commented on the explosion but has spoken to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and offered resources and support, according to the governor’s office.
ROGERSVILLE — The only thing typical about the Of One Accord ministry’s 2020 Christmas for the Children program was that every child whose application was submitted received gifts.
Other than that, the pandemic pretty much threw a monkey wrench into all 34 Christmas parties that were scheduled throughout Hawkins County in December.
This year the program served 1,300 children, which equals its previous record.
Christmas for the Children provides each child wrapped gifts to be opened Christmas morning, as well as parties with a meal and a backpack filled with gifts to be enjoyed the day of the party.
Program director Jennifer Kinsler said it was harder to meet the demand this year because several churches had to “adopt” fewer children due to budget constraints.
She had nearly 500 “leftover” children who were served thanks to last- minute contributions. Kinsler personally shopped for more than 200 of those children.
“With a global pandemic this year we wanted to continue serving families by providing Christmas gifts to needy children in Hawkins and Hancock counties while also practicing safety measures,” Kinsler said. “We had to change the way we ensure children get their gifts. We did this by inviting them to a drive-thru instead of one of our normal Christmas parties. They simply stayed inside their cars while we had mission teams and/or volunteers loading gifts. We held approximately 34 drive-thrus at various locations throughout Hawkins County.”
Overall there were 410 families served totaling right at 1,300 children.
The overall value of the program this year was reported at $168,720, including $134,000 for gifts, $16,625 for to-go meals and $3,600 for entertainment. The value of man-hours contributed to the program this year was reported at $14,262.
“For the first time this year, we had to modify the way we normally do Christmas,” said Of One Accord Director Sheldon Livesay. “We normally brought people inside the church, but none allowed us to do that this year. We normally fed the families a complete meal. This year they were either carry-out meals or pizzas to go. We normally had a Christ-centered program. This year they missed this important element. Gifts were then given to take home. We were able to provide the gifts and load them.”
Livesay added, “But we had a great Christmas, and I want to thank every sponsor, every wrapper, every volunteer, every church family and every mission team that made it up this way. Thank you, thank you.”
The latest COVID-19 numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health’s daily report for Monday:
• 76 new deaths reported Monday; 3,712 new cases reported Monday.
• Pandemic totals are 6,588 deaths and 567,792 cases.
• 85% of case totals were listed as “inactive/recovered.”
• New deaths by age Monday: 30 in the 81-plus group; 23 in the 71-80 group; 13 in the 61-70 group; five in the 51-60 group; and five in the 41-50 group.
• Nine new deaths and 215 new cases Monday for the eight-county region.
New deaths by county: One in Hawkins County (54); two in Sullivan County (172); two in Washington County (157); one in Carter County (82); two in Greene County (90); one in Unicoi County (39).
No new deaths were reported in Johnson County (total 28) or Hancock County (total four).
New cases by county: 59 in Washington; 76 in Greene; 30 in Carter; 19 in Sullivan; 10 in Hawkins; 14 in Unicoi; five in Johnson; and two in Hancock.
Active cases by county: 1,331 in Washington; 1,312 in Sullivan; 928 in Greene; 592 in Hawkins; 575 in Carter; 202 in Unicoi; 116 in Johnson; and 51 in Hancock.
Statewide: 22.96% of the 11.517 new test results reported Monday by the Tennessee Department of Health.
Ballad Health: 26% over the past seven days, for the health system’s 21-county service area, including Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Far Southwest Virginia’s daily COVID-19 death toll made up 42% of the statewide number, according to Monday’s state data report.
The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO Health District reported 27 cases and three deaths for totals of 4,681 and 117 deaths during the pandemic.
Wise County saw 14 cases and two deaths for totals of 1,922 and 57 deaths. Norton had seven cases for 162 and one death.
Lee County had four cases for 1,413 and 29 deaths. Scott County added three cases and one death for 1,184 and 30 deaths.
The VDH reported 2,599 new cases and seven deaths statewide in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 336,175 cases and 4,861 deaths.
The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Monday’s VDH report was 4,962,613 of 8.63 million residents, or 57.5%. For nasal swab testing only, 4,168,673 people have been tested to date, or 48.3%. In the LENOWISCO district, 31,189 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 36.07%.
The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Monday’s report dropped from 24.2% to 21.4%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 12.2% to 12.3%.
Red Onion State Prison had 24 inmate cases and 18 active staff/contractor cases Monday, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap had one inmate case and eight active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 24 inmate cases and two active staff/contractor cases.
According to Monday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, daily case incidence in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as fluctuating after a 13-day drop in daily case rates. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results was classed as decreasing based on a 22-day decrease in that measure.
All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. For seven-day case incidence, Norton City schools were ranked highest-risk, Lee and Wise county schools moderate-risk and Scott County Schools lowest-risk.
Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.
The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:
• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011.
• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312.
• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000.
Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.
The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.
In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.