WEST, Texas (AP) — 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 allegedly gave the materials, including chemical powders, to a man on 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.
In an interview on April 21 outside the Czech Inn, where Reed had spoken the previous day to displaced families, he talked about facing his own mortality. He said he’d lost 60 pounds in five months, yet doctors couldn’t pinpoint the source of his ailing stomach despite performing 26 biopsies.
He also described one of the West firefighters who died in the blast, Cyrus Reed, as his brother though the men weren’t related. He said Cyrus Reed worked at Hunting Titan, which manufactured explosives in nearby Milford for oil and gas companies, and would have known the dangers of the ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia inside the plant.
“I will avenge this. This will get right. I don’t care what it takes,” Reed said when talking about what might have caused the blast. “There’s one thing about Texas, that Texans understand: People talk about law and order. Well, welcome to Texas. We believe in justice. I’m going to get my justice. Period.”
Reed’s full-time job was 60 miles away at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, which confirmed Friday he had worked at the hospital as a paramedic since January.
But on the career networking website LinkedIn, what appears to be Reed’s personal page suggests an unusual job history. For seven years, Reed purportedly worked as vice president of a production company that managed music artists on tour. From 2000 through 2002, Reed said he was a systems analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
State health records show he became a certified paramedic in 2005. Following Reed’s arrest, the Department of State Health Services opened a regulatory investigation into Reed’s license and removed him from the roster of the West EMS, spokeswoman Carrie Williams said.
On Friday afternoon in West, several of Reed’s neighbors stood outside near his red brick duplex in a neighborhood less than a mile from the plant where some homes’ windows remained boarded. They said they were shocked about his arrest.
Crystal Le Dane, who lives down the street, said he was a good neighbor who had changed her flat tire and sometimes gave medical advice about her children’s minor injuries.
“I would say he’s an everyday guy. I never saw a red flag,” she said.
Reed grew up in suburban Dallas and said he had lived in West for 12 years. At the Czech Inn the weekend after the explosion, Reed’s wife, Brittany, pulled out her phone and played a video she said was taken just days before the blast of the couple’s young daughter playing with Cyrus Reed, whom her husband credited for saving his life.
Upon reaching the plant, Bryce Reed said, he saw Cyrus’ truck, so he kept on driving because he was confident the firefighter could handle the call. Minutes later, the plant erupted in flames.
When Cyrus’ body arrived at a funeral home three days later, Bryce Reed said he stayed there all night.
“I got to hug him for the last time. He got there at 9 o’clock last night and I was there until 4 in the morning, holding onto my brother,” Reed said at the time. “And telling him I’m sorry for everything that I did.”