Three days after a massive explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant, Bryce Reed climbed onto a coffee table at a local hotel where displaced families picked over donated sweatshirts and pizza. Wearing a navy blue shirt emblazoned with “West EMS,” he gathered the crowd close.
“You’re safe where you’re at,” Reed said, describing an anhydrous ammonia leak inside the rubble at the West Fertilizer Co. plant. “If you’re not, I’d be dragging you out of here myself.”
On Friday, Reed was charged with possessing bomb-making material nine days after the April 17 plant explosion, which killed 14 people, including 10 firefighters and paramedics. Federal authorities stressed that Reed has not been linked to the plant explosion but won’t say if Reed is suspected of having the bomb-making materials at the time of the blast, or if such materials may have contributed to the explosion.
In a statement released Saturday, Reed’s attorney, Jonathan Sibley, described his client as “heartbroken” and said Reed will plead not guilty to the explosives charge Wednesday. It also said Reed “had no involvement whatsoever in the explosion.” Reed reportedly gave the materials, including chemical powders, to a man April 26, and that man called authorities, according to court documents.
Officials have largely treated the West explosion as an industrial accident, though investigators are still searching for the cause of a fire that preceded the blast. A criminal investigation into the explosion was launched Friday.
That day in the West hotel lobby, applause erupted when Reed stepped down. Yet no one had asked Reed to come, and in a town swarming with federal and state investigators — who had handled all the official briefings and tightly controlled updates — a local volunteer paramedic relaying such information was a stark contrast.
In fact, Reed had been “let go” by West EMS as of April 19, the day before the speech, according to an email obtained by The Associated Press sent by a regional EMS organization, the Heart of Texas Regional Advisory Council, to the state health officials.
Reed was among the most vocal residents after the fatal explosion, freely talking to reporters while other first-responders declined interviews.