Nashville residents were jolted awake by a loud explosion in the city’s historic downtown district on Christmas morning. The bomb, hidden inside a recreational vehicle, devastated businesses in the area and disrupted AT&T communication networks throughout the state. Officials described the event as an “intentional act” and a “deliberate bomb.”
Downtown Nashville appeared to be peacefully quiet early Friday morning, until residents heard what they believed to be gunshots. Videos, photos and audio show city blocks that quickly turned chaotic in the wake of the explosion. The Washington Post examined surveillance video, listened to emergency response radio channels and spoke to witnesses to reconstruct how the incident unfolded.
A recreational vehicle arrived in the area at 1:22 a.m., approximately five hours before the detonation, according to Nashville police. In an interview with The Post, Betsy Williams, a local business owner and witness, described the RV as a white, clean-looking, older model.
A security camera at an office building near the RV captured what sounded like more than 20 gunshots between 5:11 and 5:26 a.m. The sound woke up nearby residents, who called 911. Nashville police officers responded to the area at about 6 a.m., said Don Aaron, a police spokesman.
Police and residents said a warning came from a loudspeaker on the RV. Williams said the voice warned of a bomb in the vehicle and ordered people to evacuate. Then, she said, the voice began to count down: “The vehicle will explode in 15 minutes,” then 14 minutes, then 13 minutes, and so on.
In a video posted on social media, a voice can be heard saying, “This area must be evacuated now. If you can hear this message, evacuate now.” While the details in the video match up with witness accounts and images later released by police, The Post was unable to identify its source.
Police officers combing the area heard the warning and called in a bomb squad. They went door to door, telling residents to evacuate. Just moments before the explosion, an officer was filmed telling a man walking his dog to turn around and leave the area. Both people and the dog survived.
The bomb went off at 6:29 a.m. local time. Three people were hospitalized with noncritical injuries, police said. There were no fatalities reported, but tissue was later discovered at the site that could be human remains, Nashville Police Chief John Drake said. At least 41 businesses were damaged in the blast.
A few minutes after the explosion, confusion spread on emergency response radio channels.
At 6:35 a.m.: “Stay back two blocks. For Pete’s — Stay back two blocks. We’ve had some type of large explosion till we figure out what’s going on. . . . We’ve had a large explosion, if we can figure out what’s going on, make sure we don’t have any secondaries.”
Plumes of smoke were visible from all around downtown Nashville.
Residents in the area posted videos online showing the large-scale destruction to buildings.
Aerial video captured the impact to Second Avenue, showing debris, ash and destroyed businesses. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) requested federal assistance from President Trump, saying the damage downtown and interruption to communication were too severe for the state to handle on its own.
Williams talked about the devastation she felt in losing her business and home at the same time. She said after the initial shock wore off, she started to think about meaningful personal effects that were gone, such as her grandmother’s clock and mother’s crystals. Yet, despite what was lost, she ended her reflection on a resilient note, saying, “When that happens, the tough get going.”
Michael Kranish and Derek Hawkins contributed to this report. Design by Tara McCarty and Tyler Remmel. Graphics by Youjin Shin.
Nashville mapping: Maps4News/HERE