WACO, Texas – Texas law enforcement officials on Friday launched a criminal investigation into the massive fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people last month, after weeks of largely treating the blast as an industrial accident.
The announcement came the same day federal agents said they found bomb-making materials belonging to a paramedic who helped evacuate residents the night of the explosion. Bryce Reed was arrested Friday on a charge of possessing a destructive device, but law enforcement officials said they had not linked the charge to the April 17 fire and blast at West Fertilizer Co.
“It is important to emphasize that at this point, no evidence has been uncovered to indicate any connection to the events surrounding the fire and subsequent explosion … and the arrest of Bryce Reed by the ATF,” the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said earlier Friday that the agency had instructed the Texas Rangers and the sheriff’s department to conduct a criminal probe into the explosion. The agencies will join the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which have been leading the investigation.
Reed, meanwhile, was in federal custody. A criminal complaint unsealed Friday said he was arrested after McLennan County deputies were called this week to a home in Abbott, a town about five miles from West, and found bomb-making materials – including a galvanized metal pipe, canisters filled with fuses, a lighter, a digital scale and a variety of chemical powders.
“After further investigation, it was determined that the resident had unwittingly taken possession of the components from Reed on April 26,” says the complaint signed by ATF special agent Douglas Kunze.
Reed made an initial appearance in federal court in Waco on Friday, but did not enter a plea.
Reed was one of several paramedics who helped evacuate residents from nearby apartments after the fire erupted and shortly before the explosion. He has spoken to the Associated Press extensively, and said he was devastated by the explosion, which he said killed one of his closest friends.
Bryce Reed was working as a West paramedic the night of the explosion, but he was “let go” two days later, according to an email that a regional EMS group sent to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The email, obtained by the AP under Texas’ open-records law, included no other details.