West Investigation Now Criminal Investigation
After weeks of treating the April 17 explosion in West, Texas as an industrial accident, the Texas Department of Public Safety has changed tack and has now undertaking a criminal investigation.
DPS director Steven McCraw announced that Texas Rangers have been instructed to work with the McLennan County Sheriff's Office. In a statement issued just after 10am this morning, McCraw said, "This disaster has severely impacted the community of West, and we want to ensure that no stone goes unturned and that all the facts related to this incident are uncovered."
Less than two hours later, the Dallas Morning News broke the news that Bryce Ashley Reed, an EMT who responded to the West explosion, had been arrested on Thursday for possession of the components of a pipe bomb, and had been charged with possession of a destructive device
According to the complaint filed today in the Western District, McLennan law enforcement officers were called to a residence in Abbott, Texas on May 7. They discovered a components for a "possible destructive device," including a 3.5 inch by 1.5 inch galvanized metal pipe with a 1/8 inch drilled hole, plus fuses, metal ribbon, and "several pounds of chemical powders in individual bags." According to the affadavit, the owner of the material had "unwittingly taken possession of the components from Reed on April 26," nine days after the explosion.
It is unclear whether this morning's DPS statement and Reed's arrest are connected, or whether this is simply coincidental timing. After all, no-one in Texas wants a repetition of what happened to Richard Jewell, the security guard falsely accused of the 1996 Centennial Park bombing in Atlanta.
Any investigation may be complicated by the sheer number of explosive devices in circulation. Far from being an oddity, there are hundreds of domestic bombings and bomb-related incidents every year in the US, mostly arson or backyard experimenters. In a 2009 article on the bureau's website, FBI Laboratory examiner Kirk Yaeger said, "Probably once a month I hear from law enforcement somewhere about someone blowing their hand off while experimenting in this manner."