NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) — A few weeks after Bryce Reed proclaimed he would personally protect a Texas town devastated by a deadly fertilizer plant explosion, he was arrested by federal agents who said he collected materials to make a pipe bomb, driving suspicion that he might have had something to do with the blast.
Now, Reed is mostly a footnote. While he will be sentenced Wednesday in Waco for charges related to the pipe bomb, the former paramedic was never charged in the explosion in West, about 80 miles south of Dallas. There, residents and town officials are still working to rebuild homes and schools destroyed in the blast.
“I don’t know if anybody’s paid much attention to that guy,” said Tommy Muska, the town’s mayor. “In my opinion, he had absolutely nothing to do with the explosion.”
An initial fire at West Fertilizer Co. led to the ignition of stores of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used as fertilizer that can become deadly when unstable. As many as 34 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated, causing a blast that registered as a small earthquake and killing 12 people on site trying to fight the fire. It also displaced hundreds of residents and required the eventual demolition of more than 100 homes.
Reed, at the time a member of West EMS, became something of a town spokesman who made dramatic and sometimes brash statements when most officials and residents declined to talk. Three days after the blast, he stood on a coffee table at the local Czech Inn hotel to tell displaced residents they were safe.
“You’re safe where you’re at,” Reed said. “If you’re not, I’d be dragging you out of here myself.”
He told The Associated Press that he drove by the plant the night of the fire, but saw the truck of a volunteer firefighter who he believed would be able to handle the call. He claimed that the firefighter, Cyrus Reed, was like a brother to him, even though the two men weren’t related.
A few weeks later, Reed would be arrested and charged with collecting chemicals and a small, galvanized metal pipe that could be used to assemble a pipe bomb. Reed would later admit in court documents to making Internet searches last December for “explosives,” ”explosions,” ”explosive ingredients” and “instructions for making explosives.”
A federal complaint alleged that after the blast, Reed tried to give the materials he had collected to a friend, who called authorities after realizing what Reed had placed in his possession.
It would emerge after his arrest that Reed had in fact been dismissed as a town paramedic two days after the blast for unspecified reasons. Cyrus Reed’s family would deny that the two men were particularly close.
Officials then and now took pains to distance themselves from his announcements.
“He had no authority,” Muska said Tuesday. “I guess he was looking for his 15 minutes of glory. I don’t know.”
Reed’s May arrest came as federal investigators and the State Fire Marshal’s Office were in the middle of an investigation that had not yet yielded answers, leading to questions about whether Reed had any role in the blast. The Texas Rangers and the local sheriff’s office immediately announced after Reed’s arrest that they were opening their own criminal investigation. Neither investigation has led to any criminal charges.
Reed’s attorney, Jonathan Sibley, has repeatedly called on federal authorities to clear Reed and said Reed never intended to hurt anyone.
“If there was anything out there that anybody had linking Bryce Reed to the West Fertilizer plant … we would have seen something about that,” Sibley said in an October interview. He did not return several messages this week.