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FBI seeks cellphone information after attacks on power substations

Dec. 9, 2022 Updated Fri., Dec. 9, 2022 at 9 p.m.

In this screenshot from Moore County Sheriff’s Department video, Sheriff Ronnie Fields on Sunday discusses the attack on North Carolina power substations.  (Moore County Sheriff's Department/Moore County Sheriff's Department/TNS)
In this screenshot from Moore County Sheriff’s Department video, Sheriff Ronnie Fields on Sunday discusses the attack on North Carolina power substations. (Moore County Sheriff's Department/Moore County Sheriff's Department/TNS)
By Adam Wagner, Virginia Bridges and Avi Bajpai News & Observer

RALEIGH, N.C. – Federal investigators are seeking cellphone data as part of their search for whoever fired upon a pair of Duke Energy substations in Moore County, leaving the county without power for days.

“We are in a fully joint investigation with Moore County. Investigators have filed search warrants for cellphone data,” Shelley Lynch, an FBI spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

She did not say if the “data” being sought was call logs or location histories that may be kept by Google Maps or Apple Maps.

Moore County Sheriff’s Office investigators also indicated that they were seeking multiple search warrants in the case, but it was not immediately clear if a judge had approved them or if the warrants had been executed.

No search warrants had been returned in the case as of late Friday morning, a Moore County Clerk of Superior Court employee told a reporter visiting the courthouse.

Students in Moore County were able to attend school Friday for the first time all week. It was the latest sign that life was returning to normal after the dayslong power outage came to an end Wednesday.

The streets of Carthage and Pinehurst, a village about 20 minutes away, were filled with cars, as were the parking lots of local businesses that had seen customers staying home for much of the week while substation repairs continued.

At the Pinehurst Resort, guests admired a Christmas tree in the previously mostly empty lobby of the Carolina Hotel. Basic operations continued to be powered by a generator during the outage, and a small group of guests stayed at the hotel throughout the week.

Tom Reis, who had booked a stay at the hotel with his two brothers nearly three months ago, said he was disappointed they couldn’t enjoy touring all of the restaurants and shops in town.

The brothers arrived in Pinehurst Monday afternoon, after Tom, who lives in Asheville, picked up his brothers Pat and Dan, who had flown in from Minnesota and Oregon. They ended up canceling a reservation at another nearby hotel that didn’t have generators, to finish out their weeklong trip at the Carolina Hotel.

“They just did a great job,” Tom Reis said of the hotel staff trying to accommodate guests on limited power, while loading up an SUV with bags and golf clubs.

Luckily for the brothers, who are avid golfers, “the golf was unaffected,” Tom Reis said. The course stayed open and the golf carts charged. All told, they managed to play five rounds over the course of the week.

Most emergency measures lifted Thursday, with shelters closing and emergency meal services wrapping up. Duke Energy finished its restoration efforts Wednesday evening.

Investigators have not named any suspects or specified a motive for the attack, but it happened at the same time a drag performance was taking place at Southern Pines’ Sunrise Theater.

During a Thursday event in Durham, performers who were part of the Saturday night show said they believe the timing was intentional and is indicative of an increasingly hostile climate for the LGBTQ community nationwide and in parts of North Carolina.

North Carolina and Texas were tied for the most drag events that were “targeted by protests and threats,” according to a November report from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

“For some time now, with not only (social) media bullying, but also physical and emotional attacks on the community, that’s where my brain went. This is getting out of hand with the queer community as a whole,” performer Naomi Dix said, according to the News & Observer.

Dix received death threats leading up to Saturday’s event, and the venue had extra security on hand to protect performers.

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