Nashville cop: ‘God told me’ to check on fellow officer seconds before blast
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WCSC/CNN) - Five of the Nashville police officers hailed as heroes in the aftermath of a Christmas morning explosion recounted the terrifying moments at a Sunday morning news conference.
Nashville Metropolitan Police officials on Saturday identified the six officers who worked to evacuate people and save lives before a bomb in a recreational vehicle parked on 2nd Avenue exploded:
- Officer Brenna Hosey, who has been with the department for 4 years;
- Officer James Luellen, who has been with the department for 3 years;
- Officer Michael Sipos, who has been with the department for 16-months;
- Officer Amanda Topping, who has been with the department for 21 months;
- Officer James Wells, who has been with the department for 21-months; and
- Sergeant Timothy Miller, who has been with the department for 11 years.
Miller was traveling Sunday and was unable to attend the news conference, officials said.
The other officers were emotional as they described their efforts to move people to safety and the explosion itself. They said they feel lucky to be alive and to have had the chance to see their families on Christmas following the incident.
Police initially responded to a call about shots fired in a nearby building. Luellen, the first officer on the scene, said he did not hear or see anything suspicious but requested fellow officer Hosey for backup.
“As soon as she got out of the car, almost immediately, the RV started making an announcement,” Luellen said. The message stated there was a bomb in the vehicle and that anyone nearby should evacuate, he said.
Officers who arrived on scene immediately began evacuating nearby buildings and called in the bomb squad.
At one point, after the area had been largely cleared, Wells said he was walking back toward Luellen and Hosie - and the RV.
“This might not be politically correct but this is my truth and I literally hear God tell me to turn around and go check on Topping who was by herself down on Broadway,” Wells said. “And as I turned around, for me, it felt like it took three steps and the music stopped. And as I’m walking back toward Officer Topping now, I just see orange and then I hear a loud boom.”
He said he stumbled after the blast.
“I just tell myself to stay on your feet, stay alive,” he said. “And I just take off in a full-out sprint. And I’m running toward Topping and make sure she’s okay. And we kind of meet in the middle and we just grab each other.”
Topping also said something told her to change her direction moments before the blast as she saw Wells. She moved toward the other side of the street and saw Wells turn toward her. She said she was about 10 to 15 steps away from him when the RV exploded.
“I just saw the biggest flames I’ve ever seen, the biggest explosion,” she said.
She said she just saw orange and then felt the heat wave as she saw Wells stumble.
“I don’t know how I kept my footing but I kind of blanked that I couldn’t see him for a second that I just lost it and I just took off in a sprint towards him,” she said. “:I’ve never grabbed somebody so hard in my life.”
She said they ducked into a doorway because they weren’t sure what was coming after the initial blast, describing the scene with windows shattering as something from a movie.
“I’m a spiritual person, and so I truly believe that when I do this job, I’m led by that voice, how I treat people, how I go about doing this job every day, that’s what guides me,” Wells said. “And I truly believe that that’s what guided me in that sense because I was literally getting ready to walk back toward that RV, and you watch the video you can see that moment of clarity for me when I heard God say, ‘Go and check on Topping.’”
That voice, he said, is what allowed him to see his kids and his wife on Christmas.
City officials called the six officers heroes at a Saturday news conference.
“They immediately began knocking on doors, not knowing if the bomb was going to go off immediately,” Police Chief John Drake said. “They didn’t care about themselves, they didn’t think about that, they cared about the citizens of Nashville.”
The blast caused widespread communications outages that took down police emergency systems and grounded flights at the city’s airport.
Police believe the blast was intentional but don’t yet know a motive or target.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake noted that officials had not received any threats before the explosion.
The chief said investigators have found human tissue at the scene that they believe could be remains.
Mayor John Cooper said three people taken to area hospitals for treatment were in stable condition Friday evening.
Federal agents converged Saturday at the home of a possible person of interest in the bombing. Investigators are scouring hundreds of tips and leads in the blast that damaged dozens of buildings.
More than 24 hours after the explosion, a motive remained elusive as investigators worked round-the-clock to resolve unanswered questions about the mysterious blast.
The explosion took place on a mostly deserted street on a sleepy holiday morning and was prefaced by a recorded warning advising those nearby to evacuate. Officials have been searching a home in Antioch in suburban Nashville.
Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.