SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
A massive explosion shattered the quiet Christmas morning in downtown Nashville, Tenn. Authorities don't know who did it or why. There are no confirmed fatalities, although investigators are examining tissue found at the scene as possible human remains. Three people suffered injuries, including a police officer who was knocked down by the blast. They're hospitalized in stable condition. NPR's John Burnett is in Nashville with the latest. And, John, what else do we know at this point?
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Well, Sacha, what appears to be a white recreational vehicle drove into a deserted entertainment district of Nashville about a block from the Cumberland River and parked in front of an AT&T building. That was just after 1:00 a.m. Christmas morning. Later that morning, a recording of a woman's voice coming from the RV was warning people to evacuate because it was about to blow up. Then at about 6:30 a.m., this horrific explosion went off that destroyed a portion of Second Avenue. The front desk clerk here at my hotel said it rattled her house 17 miles away and scared the wits out of her family. Officials said they received no warning, and at first, they thought it was a propane tank on the RV that blew up. But at a press conference last night, Mayor John Cooper confirmed it was a bomb deliberately detonated in the heart of his community.
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JOHN COOPER: And that blast caused injuries and catastrophic damage to this very historic part of Nashville. Now, at the end of the day, I think all of us - I certainly have - have gone from relief that there were not more casualties to now, anger and determination and resolve.
PFEIFFER: And, John, why this was done is a big question. Do we know anything about a motive?
BURNETT: We don't yet, Sacha. The FBI is in charge of the case. Federal agents have poured into downtown to look for pieces of the RV and any other evidence. They're reviewing videos from security cameras, and they've asked the public for leads. The police chief, John Drake, singled out the heroism of six of his officers. They went door to door evacuating residents in the minutes before the blast as that recorded voice inside the RV warned it was about to blow up. Chief Drake says it appears the bomber did not want mass casualties because he targeted - or she targeted - empty streets on this quietest of mornings.
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JOHN DRAKE: You would think that this person didn't want to harm people, that maybe just wanted to destroy, but we're not sure until we, you know, get further into the investigation.
PFEIFFER: It's so bizarre, John, that people were warned away since so many of these similar incidents have involved trying to hurt people.
PFEIFFER: How is Nashville coping with this, especially having happened on Christmas Day?
BURNETT: Yeah, well, police have blocked off a large part of downtown and slapped on a curfew to keep folks away. The mayor said 41 buildings were damaged and at least one collapsed entirely. The Red Cross has set up an evacuation center for displaced downtown residents. And damage to that AT&T data center caused communication outages all over town and grounded flights at the airport.
PFEIFFER: Investigators will be continuing to crawl all over that scene today. Anything in particular they're looking for?
BURNETT: You know, it always amazes me how top-notch investigators can unravel a crime scene. I remember back in 1995 when I covered the Oklahoma City bombing. A domestic terrorist blew up a truck and killed at least 168 people inside a federal building, and then FBI agents combed every inch of the area surrounding the blast. They found an axle from the truck with a VIN number on it, traced it to the rental agency and eventually tracked it back to the culprit. That's the kind of evidence they're looking for here in Nashville to find the bomber and bring them to justice and put this city at ease.
PFEIFFER: That's NPR's John Burnett speaking with us from Nashville. Thank you, John.
BURNETT: You bet, Sacha.
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