The FBI said Monday the Christmas Day bombing in downtown Nashville was motivated by the bomber's intention to kill himself due to several "life stressors," including "paranoia," "eccentric" beliefs and "deteriorating interpersonal relationships."
Investigators said the bombing was not an act of terrorism.
After a wide-ranging investigation, the FBI said in a report that the bomber, Anthony Quinn Warner, acted alone "in an effort to end his own life."
Agents determined Warner did not intend to use the bombing as a means "to bring about social or political change," an important factor in the decision not to label the bombing terrorism. The FBI also said there was no indication Warner was targeting any people or entities in the downtown corridor.
Anniversary approaches: Nashville mayor unveils vision for Second Avenue's future nearly a year after bombing
"Warner specifically chose the location and timing of the bombing so that it would be impactful, while still minimizing the likelihood of causing undue injury," the FBI said in a six-page news release.
Multiple agencies converged to investigate the blast, which destroyed some buildings and severely damaged several others along Nashville's historic Second Avenue. Warner, 63, died in the explosion.
Investigators said Warner used an RV packed with explosives to engulf a city block at about 6:30 a.m. Christmas morning. He announced his presence beforehand and warned people to evacuate through a loudspeaker that played the Petula Clark song "Downtown" and broadcast an eerie countdown in a computerized female voice.
Residents fled from their loft apartments in pajamas as police officers swept through buildings in a desperate attempt to get people out before the blast. Warner was the only person killed.
The RV was parked outside an AT&T switch facility, and the resulting damage crippled telephone and internet services across the region for days. FBI spokesperson Joel Siskovic said the investigation did not find any evidence that Warner intended for that to happen.
Federal agents investigated the possibility the attack might have been motivated by a political ideology or a wide range of baseless conspiracy theories, including theories related to the 2020 election and the rollout of the 5G cellular network. Siskovic said the investigation did not indicate those theories were related to the bombing.
The federal probe only considered the criminal implications of the bombing and is not related to ongoing local reviews focused on how law enforcement handled the bombing and early warnings in 2019 that Warner was building explosives. Panels created by Nashville police and the Metro Council will continue their work.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said the FBI's findings offered a turning point after the bombing that shook the city.
“Metro is working with community partners and residents to bring opportunity out of tragedy," Cooper said Monday. "Today’s determination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is another step in that process. We’re making progress on salvaging historic materials from the blast zone, restoring public infrastructure and engaging with experts and neighbors to imagine a future Second Avenue."
Report describes a painstaking FBI investigation
The FBI worked for months on the investigation, which required agents to sift through dirt and broken brick for pivotal clues. Investigators considered more than 3,000 pounds of evidence from the blast site, more than 2,500 tips, and more than 250 interviews, according to the FBI statement.
Agents also reviewed Warner's writings, which he distributed to several people, that described "long-held individualized beliefs adopted from several eccentric conspiracy theories."
Although the FBI said a "significant portion of the investigation" was complete, the type of explosives used in the blast remain under investigation. It could take months for that element of the case to come into focus.
Multiple ongoing investigations remain underway to determine if the Nashville police department could have done more to prevent the bombing. Metro Council members and community leaders say police were not aggressive enough in the face of a credible tip against Warner in 2019.
Police briefly investigated Warner in August 2019 after his girlfriend told officers he was building a bomb in his RV. Her lawyer told police Warner "knows what he is doing and is capable of making a bomb," according to an internal report.
Officers visited Warner's home, saw the RV and noted several security cameras on the property. They checked Warner's record with the FBI but later stopped pursuing the tip without speaking to him.
Police Chief John Drake asked a five-member panel — which includes two police leaders and three people outside of the department — to address any lapses in that investigation.
The Nashville council also created a special committee to investigate handling of the bombing and to recommend policy changes.
Bombing 'ruined lives' and will require years of recovery work
The FBI's decision to rule out terrorism is likely to be a controversial one. The agency avoided using the term in the aftermath of the bombing, saying it was unclear if the act fit the nuanced definition used by law enforcement.
Critics were outspoken in the wake of the bombing, saying the bombing clearly terrorized the community. Some community leaders said authorities are quicker to use the term terrorism when people of color are involved. Warner was white.
At-large Council member Bob Mendes, who initially called the bombing an act of domestic terrorism, said the limited information released by the FBI left several unanswered questions. He said the city committee reviewing the bombing offered an opportunity to potentially fill in some of the blanks in a public forum.
"There have been multiple reviews going on behind closed doors," Mendes said, referencing the FBI's criminal investigation and the internal police review. "There should be a public-facing component."
Council member Freddie O'Connell, who represents the area affected by the explosion, said the bombing's impact was nothing short of catastrophic, no matter the designation.
The arduous work of repairing and restoring the red brick Victorian buildings along Second Avenue will likely take years to complete. Some businesses have already confirmed they won't be coming back.
"Regardless of the FBI’s label, this was an intentional act of destruction that ruined lives and devastated a beloved historical part of our downtown," O'Connell said. "We’re extremely lucky that the only life lost was the suspect’s."
Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tamburintweets.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: FBI report: Nashville bomber acted alone, was driven by 'paranoia'