Suspicion Grows: First Responder Who Helped In Aftermath of West, TX Fertilizer Plant Explosion Arrested For Possession of Pipe Bomb, Unclear Whether Arrest Is Related To Plant Explosion
A volunteer paramedic who was among the first on the scene of a massive explosion last month at a West, Texas fertilizer plant was arrested early Friday and charged with possession of a destructive device.
Officials have not said whether the arrest of Bryce Reed is related to the April 17 explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. that killed 14 people, injured around 200 and destroyed hundreds of homes. However, Reed admitted that a “galvanized metal pipe” and accompanying explosive materials found on April 26 were his, a federal affidavit said.
Firearms agents were alerted to the device when a resident of Abbott, Texas called them about a potentional explosive that the resident had “unwittingly taken possession of” from Reed, the affidavit said.
Reed’s arrest came as Texas law enforcement officials said they had launched a criminal investigation into the massive fertilizer plant explosion.
Reed, 31, made an initial appearance in federal court Friday, but did not enter a plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Frazier said he would not release further details until court documents were unsealed sometime later in the day.
Reed admitted to other investigators to possessing components of the pipe bomb, according to the affidavit.
Until now, Investigators have largely treated the explosion as an industrial accident, but the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement that the agency has instructed the Texas Rangers and the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department to conduct a criminal probe.
“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,” DPS Director Steven McCraw said.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said residents “must have confidence that this incident has been looked at from every angle and professionally handled — they deserve nothing less.”
DPS Director Steve McCraw added that the agency wanted “to ensure that no stone goes unturned and that all the facts related to this incident are uncovered.”
West EMT Bryce Reed, center, attends a memorial service for his friend, Cyrus Reed, and other victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, on April 25.(Photo: Eric Gay, AP)
News 92 FM in Houston reported that Reed, who is with the West Emergency Medical Services, was one of the early first responders to the scene of the catastrophe and was assigned to be the incident commander at the scene.
U.S. Marshals arrested Reed around 2 a.m. and and booked him into McLennan County Jail in Waco, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The newspaper said Reed had spoken to The Dallas Morning News and the Los Angeles Times in the immediate aftermath of the explosion about his experience.
In the interview with the Times a day after the explosion, Reed said that his best friend, an emergency worker, had also responded to the fire that preceded the blast.
Reed said he was ordered to go just south of the fire to take over as incident commander while his friend stayed at the scene of the blaze and was there when the explosion occurred.
“He was my best friend. He got me help through the crisis in my life. He’s my brother,” Reed told the Times.
Reed’s wife, Brittany Reed, declined to comment Friday.
“I can’t. No comment, no comment no comment right now,” she said before hanging up the phone
Although Reed did not identify his friend by name in the article, he was later identified as Cyrus Reed. (The two are not related). A photo of the distraught paramedic attending a memorial service for the victims was widely circulated.
Reed gave a eulogy for Cyrus Reed. According to the Dallas Morning News, Reed has portrayed himself as Cyrus’ close friend.
In a video that aired at the memorial, Bryce Reed said Cyrus Reed lived life to the fullest, the Dallas Morning News reported. He said Cyrus Reed also loved fire and was known for backyard high jinks that included shooting BB guns at pressurized cans of processed cheese.
“He would giggle and then proceed to plead his case and say, ‘You don’t understand, it was like 15 feet in the air and it spun and it was so cool,’” Bryce Reed said at the April 25 memorial in Waco that was attended by Gov. Rick Perry and President Barack Obama.
However, on Friday, the paper quoted Cyrus Reed’s sister as saying her family had been “fooled by Bryce Reed.”
Sarah Reed told the paper her family have gone through Cyrus’ computer and cellphone records and it doesn’t appear the two were as close as Reed had led them to believe.
“He convinced us that he and Cyrus were very close, like brothers,” she told the paper. “But I want people to know they are not brothers, and he is not part of our family.”
According to statements he made on Facebook, there were also indications that some people thought Reed might have profited from donations made to those harmed by the attack. The paper quoted one, from Monday, in which Reed wrote he was “appalled at how people are tearing me apart.”
On Tuesday Reed posted “I have not received ONE CENT for ANYTHING that I did to help with this situation. I have not been paid by the media, by press, I made nothing for delivering my brothers eulogy, and made NOTHING off of this tragedy. I was a shoulder to cry on, I found a GREAT new family, and was blessed to get to tell them about their son.”
According to the Dallas Morning News, on Friday West city officials notified the Texas state agency that licenses paramedics that Reed has lost his job two days after the blast. The emails obtained by the newspaper do not explain his termination. Calls to George Smith, the medical director of West EMS, were not returned Friday.
A CLOSER LOOK: 14 remembered
WFAA-TV in Dallas reported last week that the state fire marshal had told lawmakers that the on-site investigation into the cause of the explosion would be completed by May 10. The report quoted officials as saying the probe involved 300 interviews based on 160 leads.