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Nashville Bombing Suspect Died in Explosion, Police Say

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 12/27/2020 Ian Lovett, Drew FitzGerald
a car driving on a city street filled with lots of traffic © Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Federal authorities on Sunday identified Anthony Warner as the man responsible for the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville, saying that they believe the 63-year-old acted alone and died in the explosion.

Officials said DNA from the scene was matched to Mr. Warner, who had previously been identified as a person of interest in the attack. A vehicle identification number from the RV that exploded was also matched to one registered to him.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that an individual named Anthony Warner is the bomber, that he was present when the bomb went off, and that he perished in the bombing,” Donald Cochran, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said at a press conference Sunday.

Officials said they had no evidence that anyone else had been involved in the attack. No one else was seen coming or going from the RV that exploded in security footage.

Douglas Korneski, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Memphis field office, said investigators haven’t identified Mr. Warner’s motive and asked anyone who knew him to come forward. “Right now we’re looking at any and all possible motives,” Mr. Korneski said.

Intelligence officials have considered whether an AT&T Inc. switching station that the RV was parked outside of was targeted in the bombing, according to a person briefed on the investigation.

Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday morning, Nashville Mayor John Cooper said, “To all of us locally, it feels like there has to be some connection with the AT&T facility and the site of the bombing.”

The bombing, which came after a sound system in the RV warned listeners that an explosive was inside, injured at least three people and damaged at least 41 buildings, one of which was destroyed, according to authorities.

Mr. Warner was first publicly identified as a person of interest in the case on Saturday. That same day, agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives swarmed his Nashville home, according to Steve Schmoldt, who has lived next door to Mr. Warner since 1995. He said his deceased neighbor described himself as a “computer geek.”

“He mostly kept to himself,” Mr. Schmoldt said. “I never saw anybody go to his house.”

The bombing caused damage to the AT&T switching center and knocked out phone and internet service in much of Tennessee, Kentucky and Northern Alabama. The telecom company said Sunday afternoon that it had restored 96% of its wireless network, 60% of business service and 86% of consumer broadband and entertainment services.

Switching centers, also known in the industry as “central offices,” represent vulnerable spots in the country’s telecommunications infrastructure because of the important equipment they house and how close they often are to busy downtown business districts. Many are hulking brick-and-concrete structures built several decades ago when the original AT&T monopoly employed thousands of human operators to route customers’ phone calls.

Digital equipment later replaced those operator banks, but the buildings continued to serve as hubs for hard-to-move fiber optic lines that shuttle data. Access to the buildings is strictly guarded, though their owners have less control of the environment outside those centers.

Physical attacks on those network hubs are unusual. However, telephone-pole wires and cellular towers are frequent targets of intentional attacks. Gunshots and vandalism cause several dozen outages in the U.S. each year, according to Federal Communications Commission reports.

Such incidents rarely cause the massive outages that the latest Christmas bombing created. The internet’s decentralized structure lets companies route around damage to other parts of the network. An unknown attacker chopped several high-capacity fiber optic lines in Northern California starting in 2014, for example, but the cuts never interrupted service for long.

The center of Nashville’s tourist zone is a few blocks away from the explosion, along Lower Broadway, which is lined with honky tonks and other music venues, cowboy boot stores, restaurants and a museum dedicated to country music legend Johnny Cash.

More than 16 million people visited the city last year, 6% more than in 2018, according to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. Visitors in 2019 directly spent about $7.5 billion in Nashville, according to the business association.

This year, spending on tourism in Nashville is down about $4 billion, said Butch Spyridon, chief executive of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

The organization was planning to air a television commercial at the end of the month to lure tourists to the city, but now staff are debating whether to pull the ad, according to Mr. Spyridon. They have suspended all other advertising. Prospects for the city’s tourist business had been hopeful with vaccines being distributed, but “this puts a wrench in the plans,” he said.

Several times this year, Mr. Spyridon had thought Nashville tourism was about to start recovering.

“But every time another blow is landed,” he said. “We will work our way out of this, but it just got harder and it just got longer.”

William Fox, an economist and director of the University of Tennessee’s Boyd Center for Business & Economic Research, said Saturday that Tennessee’s overall economy has weathered the pandemic well but Nashville has struggled because of its dependence on tourism.

Asked about the explosion’s impact on the city’s economy, Mr. Fox said, “It won’t really have a big impact. People will realize pretty quickly that it’s an isolated event.”

Write to Ian Lovett at ian.lovett@wsj.com and Drew FitzGerald at andrew.fitzgerald@wsj.com

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