Nashville Bomber Left Hints of Trouble, But Motive Elusive

nashville bomber
Anthony Quinn Warner, in an undated image posted on social media by the FBI. (AP)

In the days before he detonated a bomb in downtown Nashville on Friday, Anthony Quinn Warner changed his life in ways that suggest he never intended to survive the blast that killed him and wounded three other people.

Warner, 63, gave away his car, telling the recipient that he had cancer. A month before the bombing, he signed a document that transferred his longtime home in a Nashville suburb to a California woman for nothing in return. The computer consultant told an employer that he was retiring.

But he didn’t leave behind a clear digital footprint or any other obvious clues to explain why he set off the explosion in his parked recreational vehicle or played a message warning people to flee before it damaged dozens of buildings and knocked out cellphone service in the area.

A neighbor, Rick Laude, told The Associated Press on Monday that less than a week before the attack, Warner had said to him, “Nashville and the world is never going to forget me.”

Laude said he didn’t think much of the remark, and was speechless when he learned that authorities had identified Warner as the bomber.

“Nothing about this guy raised any red flags,” Laude said.

As investigators continued to search for a motive, body camera video released late Monday by Nashville police offered more insight into 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 wail as a police dispatch voice calls for all available personnel and people stumble through downtown streets littered with glass.

Local and federal law-enforcement agents were told more than a year ago that Warner was making explosives in his RV, but they said they were unable to investigate further after he did not respond to knocks on his door, according to police documents.

Nashville police visited Warner’s home on Aug. 21, 2019, after his friend told officers that he “was building bombs in the RV trailer at his residence,” according to an incident report and synopsis from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. The visit was first reported by The Tennessean.

Warner’s attorney also told police at the time that Warner “frequently talks about the military and bombmaking” and was “capable of making a bomb,” the report says. The responding officers notified their superiors and the FBI, according to the synopsis, but a background check on Warner did not show suspicious information.

An FBI spokesman said the agency had found “no records at all” after it received a request from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department on Aug. 22, 2019, to investigate Warner. The FBI also processed a Department of Defense inquiry, “which was also negative,” the spokesman said.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch told reporters this week that Warner “was not on our radar” before the bombing.

According to the report of the Aug. 21, 2019 incident, after Warner’s friend told them he was building bombs in the RV, the attorney also said Warner “knows what he is doing and is capable of making a bomb.”

Police went to Warner’s home and noticed the RV parked in the backyard, but could not see inside because it was blocked by a fence. Officers also reported seeing several security cameras and an alarm sign on the property. The officers reported that they knocked on Warner’s door multiple times, but he did not respond.

“They saw no evidence of a crime and had no authority to enter his home or fenced property,” police said in the synopsis.

Officers told supervisors about the incident and sent a report to the hazardous devices unit for follow-up, according to police.

On Aug. 22, police sent a message to the FBI, which soon reported back that agents had found “no records on Warner at all,” police said. Subsequent reports from the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives turned up nothing suspicious, according to police.

At about the same time, the hazardous devices unit contacted the attorney according to the synopsis.

“The recollection of that call is that Warner did not care for the police,” police said in the synopsis. “At no time was there any evidence of a crime detected and no additional action was taken.”

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 potential motive, a law enforcement official said. A review of his financial transactions also uncovered purchases of potential bomb-making components, the official said.

Investigators used some items collected from the vehicle Werner recently gave away, including a hat and gloves, to match his DNA, and DNA was taken from one of his family members.

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 said.

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 said federal agents were examining a number of potential leads and pursuing several theories, including the possibility that the AT&T building was targeted.

The bombing took place on a holiday morning well before downtown streets were bustling with activity. Police were responding to a report of shots fired Friday 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 a 1964 song shortly before the blast.

Reporting by The Associated Press and The Washington Post.