(CNN) — An explosion on Christmas morning that shook downtown Nashville and left at least three people injured and damaged dozens of buildings would have been an intentional act, authorities said.
Agents with the Metro Nashville Police Department were responding to a shooting call Friday morning when they found a motor home parked in front of an AT&T building at 166 2nd Avenue North, according to police spokesman Don Aaron. .
Police did not see immediate evidence of shooting, Aaron said at a news conference, but something about the vehicle prompted officers to request the department’s dangerous devices unit.
The bomb squad was heading downtown when the vehicle exploded at 6:30 a.m., Aaron said.
“We believe this was an intentional act,” Aaron said. “There was significant damage to infrastructure there on 2nd Avenue North.”
Three people were taken to hospitals from the scene, but none were in critical condition, according to Nashville Fire spokesman Joseph Pleasant.
The force of the blast knocked one officer down, Aaron said, and caused hearing loss in another, hopefully temporarily, he said. But no officers were significantly injured.
FBI to take over investigation in Nashville
The FBI told CNN that its Memphis field office will take over the investigation.
There were no known credible threats in the Nashville area that would have signaled an imminent attack on or before Christmas, a federal law enforcement source told CNN.
A second source said federal authorities are unaware of an increase in nationwide conversations by known extremist groups indicating credible plans to carry out attacks during the holiday season.
Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen was briefed on the incident this morning, according to his spokesman, “and ordered that all Justice Department resources be available to assist in the investigation.”
The White House said President Donald Trump had also been briefed on the incident and will receive “regular updates.”
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said in a statement on Twitter that the state would “provide all necessary resources” to determine the cause of the explosion.
‘Everything on the street was on fire’
Witness Buck McCoy told CNN that the explosion took place right in front of his home and caused his windows to blow out.
“Everything in the street was on fire,” he said. “There were three cars that were completely swallowed up.”
McCoy said he was originally awakened by what he believed to be gunshots, about 10 minutes before the explosion. He got up and looked out the window, he said, but went back to bed when he saw nothing.
When asked if the noise he heard could have been anything other than gunshots, McCoy stressed that he believed it was gunshots. He said he has a gun and that he practices shooting, so he’s familiar with the sound of gunfire.
Investigators were conducting a secondary search of downtown buildings, particularly those on 2nd Avenue, to make sure no one needed help, Aaron said.
Before the explosion, officers had gone door-to-door or apartment-to-apartment to inform residents of the situation. A man walking a dog on 2nd Avenue was forced to swerve just before the vehicle exploded, he explained.
Authorities don’t know if anyone was inside the vehicle when the explosion occurred, Aaron said. Police are not aware of any other attempted explosion.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper told CNN that dozens of buildings had been damaged, mostly with broken glass. Some buildings have been evacuated, the mayor said, but he did not know how many buildings or how many people had been affected.
“Right now, there’s a lot of glass damage on 2nd Avenue,” he said.
The street is on the edge of the tourist district of this Tennessee city, in an old and historic part of the town.
Cooper told CNN affiliate WSMV that the blast “clearly occurred when no one was around.”
“Fortunately there are not many people here,” he said.
Images from CNN affiliate WTVF showed smoke rising from a street fire, with debris covering the area.
McCoy told CNN that when he looked outside after the blast, trees had fallen and there were broken glass everywhere. He saw people coming out of their apartments with their animals. Firefighters told him to stay as far away from the area as possible, he said.
“There’s nothing left on 2nd Avenue,” he said.
CNN’s Paul P. Murphy, Evan Perez, Josh Campbell, and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.
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