‘The Whole Building Shook’: An Angeleno in Nashville Describes the Scene on Christmas Morning

Traci Canter was scrambling to evacuate from her hotel when an RV exploded a block away

UPDATE: After this post was published, authorities identified the suspected suicide bomber as 63-year-old Anthony Q. Warner. Remains that matched his DNA profile were reportedly found at the scene; his motive isn’t known.

A bomb exploded in downtown Nashville early Christmas morning, injuring three people and severely damaging about 20 buildings, city officials said. Nashville Metro police said the blast originated from an RV parked in front of the AT&T building downtown. Casualties seem to be light in part because police were already in the area because of an earlier 911 call alleging a shooting there, but instead found the RV, which was playing a recording announcing that there was a bomb inside. Police say they immediately began evacuating people from nearby structures.

One of those evacuated was Los Angeles resident Traci Canter, who was staying in downtown Nashville with her family at the time of the blast.

“I’m actually OK, considering all the wreckage,” she said about an hour after she had to evacuate.

Canter said she and her family were staying on the fifth floor of the 21c Museum Hotel Nashville, which is a block from the AT&T building. At around 6:30 a.m. she awoke hearing a very loud announcement inside hotel: “Evacuate immediately! Evacuate immediately!” She said she threw on clothes and was grabbing her phone and charger when the bomb went off.

“The whole building shook,” Canter said. “It was a loud boom—I could definitely tell it was a bomb. In that moment I thought there was a 50/50 chance of either sinking into the hotel or making it out.”

She said she and her family took the stairs down to the ground floor, where they saw there were only about a dozen other guests there—because of the pandemic, the hotel was mostly empty. “Only eight rooms in the hotel were occupied,” she said.

But the doors were locked, so one of the men grabbed a chair and used it to break the glass so they could get out to the street. There she saw police were arriving, and a guard told them to get back into the hotel.

Some guests speculated that maybe the blast was from a gas leak, she said.

A few minutes later they left the hotel, and walked three blocks away from the blast site, and eventually stopped at the courtyard in front of Nashville’s old library and courthouse. “It was like 19 degrees. It was freezing.” Canter said they watched huge numbers of police and fire vehicles arrive, then went inside the building for warmth. After about an hour they walked again, making their way to the Fairfield Hotel.

“They offered us free coffee and water and were very hospitable,” she said. “We watched out the Fairfield’s windows as the police cars, fire trucks, and state troopers arrived.”

She ended up having to secure new lodgings, as she had been told that Hotel 21C would be closed “indefinitely.”

“We’re warm and safe now,” she said. “There are fire trucks and police everywhere. But all our suitcases and belongings are sill in our hotel room.” She added that she was watching police taking K-9 dogs to every car parked on the street, sweeping for secondary explosives, then leaving a yellow tag on the cars after the dog moved on.

“This appears to have been an intentional act,” Metro Nashville Police tweeted about an hour after the bombing. The FBI is sending investigators, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told CNN that they would treat the explosion as a “presumptive act of terrorism.” Nashville Mayor John Cooper estimated the bomb had damaged about 20 buildings, according to The Tennessean.

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