One of the First Responders to the West Fertilizer Blast Has Been Arrested

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 10 2013 1:42 PM

One of the First Responders to the West Fertilizer Blast Has Been Arrested

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In this photo from April 18, smoke still rises from the rubble of a house that was next to the West, Texas, fertilizer plant that exploded the previous afternoon.

Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Some confusing and perhaps troubling news is currently coming out of West, Texas, where police have arrested a 31-year-old paramedic said to have have been among the first to respond to last month's massive explosion at a fertilizer plant that killed 15, injured about 200 others and destroyed much of the town.

The Dallas Morning News reports that 31-year-old Bryce Reed was arrested at around 2 a.m. for "possessing a destructive device," later described as a pipe bomb by an unnamed police source who spoke with a Houston radio station. Reed was booked into the local county jail, but has since been taken into custody by U.S. Marshals.

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Authorities aren't saying whether the arrest is connected to the explosion, but they're not saying that it's not, either, something that has everyone on edge, unfairly or not. Making things that much more troubling is the fact that the Texas Rangers and the local sheriff's office launched a criminal investigation into the plant explosion Friday morning, only hours after Reed was arrested. Here's the Morning News with more on the official silence on the arrest:

The State Fire Marshal’s office has not determined – or ruled out – whether the fire was a criminal act or accidental. The agency also has not determined the cause of the fire that preceded the deadly explosion, believed to be fueled largely by ammonium nitrate kept at the plant. Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the fire agency, said Friday she could not comment on Reed’s arrest.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw and McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara released a joint statement Friday morning about their criminal investigation. Neither mentioned Reed’s arrest. "The citizens of McLennan County and Texas must have confidence that this incident has been looked at from every angle and professionally handled – they deserve nothing less," McNamara said. 

In the days after the April blast, Reed spoke to a number of media outlets about the explosion and his role in the response. The day after the disaster, he was featured prominently in this Los Angeles Times story, in which he described his role as incident commander in the response effort. At last month's public memorial for a dozen of those killed by the blast, Reed "gave a heartfelt and often times humorous eulogy for his close friend," in the words of the Morning News.

According to News 92 FM in Houston, Reed is said to have asked an acquaintance to store a box for him sometime after the explosion. That person later found what appeared to be a pipe bomb in the container, and then contacted police.

While the state fire marshal hasn't determined the cause of the blaze that proceeded the blast yet, earlier this week the department announced it had ruled out four potential causes: weather, natural causes, anhydrous ammonium, and ammonium nitrate in a rail car.

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This post has been updated with additional information.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.