Two events happening on the same day – a West, Texas, man arrested for possession of a "destructive device" and law enforcement officials launching a criminal investigation into the town's fatal, April 17 fertilizer-plant explosion – have reopened speculation that the deadly blast may have been more than an accident.
Yet thus far, authorities have refused to answer or comment on whether the two events are related.
Bryce Reed, 31, a member of West's Emergency Medical Services team, was taken into custody at about 2:15 a.m. on Friday and was turned over to federal officials at about 7 a.m. He was scheduled to appear without bond in federal court in Waco, Texas, later Friday morning.
KPRC-TV in Houston quoted unnamed federal sources as saying Reed had asked an acquaintance to store a box for him sometime after the April 17 explosion. The sources said that person decided to look in the box, discovered what appeared to be a pipe bomb and contacted law enforcement officials.
Reed was among West's most visible residents after the blast, which killed 15 people, injured 200 others and damaged hundreds of homes. He notably assumed command on the radio when he realized his superiors on the EMS team had died in the explosion. He was also quoted in several national media outlets and was among the speakers at the April 25 public memorial for the 12 people killed responding to the fire, the same memorial where President Barack Obama delivered the official eulogy.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports Reed's LinkedIn profile lists spending time at the U.S. Biological and Chemical Weapon Depot in Ft McClellan, Ala. Reed also lists one year from 2010-2011 as a technician/regional safety officer for Allied International Emergency LLC., where he said response teams dealt with "Weapons of Mass Destruction Response, Nuclear Event Management, Chemical or Biological Weapons Containment, Large Scale Environmental Loss Mitigation, to DOT/EPA small scale spill cleanup."
Investigators have largely treated the fatal West Fertilizer Co. blast an industrial accident, but the Associated Press reports the Texas Department of Public Safety has now instructed the Texas Rangers and the McLennan County Sheriff's Department to conduct a criminal probe.
"This disaster has severely impacted the community of West, and we want to ensure that no stone goes unturned and that all the facts related to this incident are uncovered," DPS Director Steven McCraw said.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said residents "must have confidence that this incident has been looked at from every angle and professionally handled – they deserve nothing less."
While authorities are still not discussing whether or not Reed's arrest is connected to the investigation, those who know the paramedic have offered comments.
For example, Reed had spoken publicly about his friendship with Cyrus Reed (no relation), one of the first responders who was killed in West, even referring to him as "brother." Yet Sarah Reed, Cyrus Reed's biological sister, told the Dallas Morning News her family had been "fooled by Bryce Reed" and that the two were not close. In fact, Sarah Reed told the newspaper she had to ask police to guard her deceased brother's apartment because she feared Reed had been stealing from it since the blast.
On the other hand, an EMS class student in West, where Reed was also an instructor, told the Morning News she would "trust him with my life."
"I don't see him being that type of person at all," said student Amanda Atkins, who said she has known Reed since November. "He is the most caring, giving guy. I mean, wow. He's totally not that type of person."
The April 17 plant explosion began with a fire in the fertilizer and seed building, which then escalated with a massive explosion about 20 minutes after the first report of a fire. The blast registered on seismographs as a magnitude-2.1 earthquake and could be felt 50 miles away.
CNN reports on Monday, the state fire marshal's office said it ruled out four potential causes: weather, natural causes, anhydrous ammonium and ammonium nitrate in a rail car.
CNN also reports scores of investigators have followed up on leads relating to the explosion. At least 60 investigators have been on site each day and have conducted over 400 interviews in trying to determine how the fire started and what caused the explosion.