A West EMS volunteer who told media outlets he responded to the deadly April 17 explosion at West Fertilizer Co. was in federal custody Friday, charged with possessing an unregistered destructive device.
Bryce Ashley Reed, 31, is accused of having the components to make a pipe bomb, according to legal documents unsealed after Reed’s initial appearance in federal court Friday morning.
Federal authorities said they wouldn’t speculate on whether the case has any ties to the deadly blast at the West fertilizer plant, but officials with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office stressed in a news release that “no evidence has been uncovered to indicate any connection to the events surrounding the fire and subsequent explosion . . . and the arrest of Bryce Reed by the ATF.”
The explosion at the plant killed 15 people — including 12 first responders — injured 200 others and damaged more than 300 homes. The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Reed was arrested late Thursday by federal officials, two days after McLennan County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to an undisclosed Abbott residence, where they found what experts think were components for making a pipe bomb, according to a sworn affidavit signed by a special agent with the ATF.
A bomb squad responded to the home and disabled what authorities suspected to be a pipe bomb, said McLennan County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Cawthon. Investigators also found other materials that could be used to create a pipe bomb, he said.
Those components included a 3.5-by-1.5-inch galvanized pipe, canisters containing a hobby fuse, a lighter, digital scale, plastic spoon and six coils of ribbon, according to the affidavit.
Agents also found several pounds of bagged chemical powders, including potassium nitrate, aluminum powder, red iron oxide, ammonium perchlorate, potassium perchlorate, sulfur powder, air float charcoal and Eckart 10890 German Dark Aluminum, the court documents state.
An investigation determined that the unnamed resident at the home “had unwittingly taken possession of the components from Reed” on April 26, a little more than a week after the disastrous blast, according to federal authorities. Reed has admitted to possessing the components of a pipe bomb to law enforcement officials, states the affidavit.
ATF spokeswoman Franceska Perot said in a brief phone interview that she could not elaborate on the content of the arrest warrant affidavit.
Reed’s court-appointed attorney, Jonathan Sibley, declined comment on the case Friday evening, saying he had not yet seen his client.
Reed is being held pending a detention hearing Wednesday.
West EMS volunteer
Reed became known to the public when he gave his account of the explosion aftermath to at least two news agencies, and also participated in a video eulogy for Abbott volunteer firefighter Cyrus Reed, who was killed in the blast.
In a May 5 Dallas Morning News article, Reed said he drove toward the plant with his wife after hearing about the fire. They turned back after seeing EMS crews had responded, and the couple went to help evacuate people from a nearby apartment complex, according to the article.
Shortly after, the plant exploded, Reed, who returned to the plant to help, eventually took control of the radio command, he told the Morning News.
Reed also eulogized Cyrus Reed with a video in a public memorial service for the first responders killed in the plant explosion. Ben Ranzinger, a West native and video production editor who prepared the video tributes, said the two men were close friends but were not blood relatives.
“In death we focus on the day one was born and the day one passed,” Reed said in his eulogy. “The only representation of a profound life lived on a marble marker is the dash that resides between the two dates. My brother (in arms) lived his dash. He lived as a man with a passion and a zeal for life that could not be contained and was contagious to all who knew him. Cy’s dash should extend well past any length that marble can ever contain.”
Ranzinger said Bryce Reed had been a volunteer for West EMS, but believed Reed was no longer affiliated with the agency because he was not wearing an organizational patch on his EMS uniform indicating what group he worked with when he filmed the video.
Several West firefighters and EMS personnel declined comment Friday morning to the Tribune-Herald, saying they were told not to discuss the case.
Recent Facebook posts, ostensibly made by Reed, indicated he believed people thought he might somehow be profiting from the explosion and its aftermath.
According to a Tuesday post on his Facebook page, Reed said he had “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. THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME!!! IT IS ABOUT 12 HEROS THAT DIED TO SAVE LIVES!!!!! I am blessed to be alive. Period. I lost a lot in this and there have been INCREDIBLY kind people who are taking donations so I can get a HOME AND LIFE back, however, never would I PROFIT from anyones death. I loved and still love Cyrus A. Reed, and he loved me.”
A day later, a post thanked friends for prayer and support, adding that Reed planned “to take a break from Facebook to reflect.”
“I assure you that I’m ok,” states the post. “God bless you all, and please if you heed nothing else I have said, love one another.”
Crystal LeDane, who said she has been a neighbor of Reed’s in West for three years, described him as a “normal guy, an average Joe,” adding that she didn’t see anything that made her suspicious of Reed, who LeDane said lived with his wife and young child.
She noted that they were only acquaintances, saying she “saw them carrying in bags from Walmart and gallons of milk, just like the rest of us.”
Reed’s wife did not immediately respond to a message from the Tribune-Herald requesting comment.
LeDane, who said she has attended 13 funerals, added that should investigators discover that the explosion was the result of a criminal act, “it will rock us again like it rocked us the first time.”
“We are just trying to get over the shock and get our lives back together,” she said.
Staff writer Regina Dennis contributed to this story.