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West, Texas paramedic arrested for possession of a “destructive device”

West, Texas paramedic arrested for possession of a "destructive device"

Even as there were rumblings the horrific explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas might be investigated as a criminal act, rather than an industrial accident, the police suddenly arrested one of the first paramedics who responded to the scene, charging him with possession of a “destructive device.”  From the Dallas Morning News:

Hours after a West paramedic was arrested for possessing a destructive device Friday, the Texas Rangers and McLennan County Sheriff’s office launched a criminal investigation into the fatal fertilizer plant explosion that he responded to last month.

But authorities have yet to say whether the arrest of 31-year-old Bryce Reed was related to the April 17 explosion at West Fertilizer Co. that killed 15 people, including 12 men who were responding to the fire. Reed made an initial appearance in federal court in Waco on Friday but did not enter a plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Frazier would not release further details about the charge.

The State Fire Marshal’s office has not determined – or ruled out – whether the fire was a criminal act or accidental. The agency also has not determined the cause of the fire that preceded the deadly explosion, believed to have been fueled largely by ammonium nitrate kept at the plant. Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the agency, said Friday she could not comment on Reed’s arrest.

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives reportedly spent Thursday afternoon going through Reed’s house, before he was arrested at 2 AM Friday morning.  He reportedly had not lived in the house since the fertilizer plant explosion.

News 92 FM in Houston says the “destructive device” in question was in fact a pipe bomb:

According to sources, Reed asked an acquaintance to store a box for him sometime after the April 19 explosive at the West Fertilizer Company. That person reportedly found what appeared to be a pipe bomb in the box. Authorities were then contacted which led to the investigation.

The picture of Reed emerging from the Dallas Morning News is confusing.  His stepfather insists there is “not a chance” he had anything to do with the fertilizer plant explosion. He’s been interviewed extensively in the media for his role as one of the first responders on the scene, and he gave a memorable eulogy for fallen firefighter Cyrus Reed (who only coincidentally has the same last name, although Bryce has occasionally referred to Cyrus as his “brother,” to emphasize the closeness of their relationship.)

However, Cyrus Reed’s family seems to have grown very suspicious of Bryce Reed:

But Sarah Reed, who is Cyrus Reed’s biological sister, said her family had been “fooled by Bryce Reed.” She said that her family let Bryce Reed eulogize their relative because he led them to believe that he and Cyrus Reed were very close.

Sarah Reed said she and her family have gone through Cyrus Reed’s computer and cellphone records and have found that the two first responders might not have been as close as the suspect led the public to believe, she said.

“He convinced us that he and Cyrus were very close, like brothers,” she said. “But I want people to know they are not brothers, and he is not part of our family.”

On the other hand, Bryce Reed runs an EMS class, and one of his students declared, “I would trust him with my life… He is the most caring, giving guy.”

Within hours of Bryce Reed’s arrest, the Texas Rangers and McLennan County Sheriff’s Department launched a criminal probe, although it has not been explicitly linked to Reed.  The authorities currently portray the probe as an effort to “ensure that no stone goes unturned and that all the facts related to this incident are recovered,” according to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw.

It’s always possible Reed likes to fool around with explosives but had nothing to do with the fertilizer plant explosion, which could indeed have been a terrible industrial accident.  The timing of the arrest is provocative, but we should not jump to conclusions before more official announcements are made.

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