Church assists recovery efforts after Christmas Day bombing
By Diana Chandler
NASHVILLE — Security cameras at Nashville’s First Baptist Church captured the moment a bomb exploded four blocks away on Christmas morning, damaging 40 buildings downtown and injuring at least three people.
The church’s proximity afforded a unique outreach opportunity.
The FBI National Citizens Academy Alumni Association eyed Nashville First’s kitchen facilities for volunteers with special security clearance to prepare meals for the many first responders investigating the scene, including Nashville police, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“This was a very elite group. They were trained by the FBI,” Nashville First Senior Pastor Frank Lewis told the congregation during a virtual worship service on Jan. 3. “They go into cities after there is a crisis such as the one that we experienced, and they specialize in having food prepared for the first responders and others, but they needed a place. And our church was ideally located.
“Our kitchen was such an incredible gift to them, that they were able to feed approximately 1,000 people a day during this previous week as they responded to the need that was here in our city.”
Volunteer cook Ginger “Mama” Passarelli, president of The Soup Ladies in Buckley, Wash., was among nine volunteers the FBI alumni group deployed.
“Having a kitchen like that was vital for us to be able to put out 3,000 meals in two and a half days,” said Passarelli, a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy and a retired restaurant owner.
“If we didn’t have all that equipment and cooking capacity, it would have made it twice as hard. And we have been in places where we had to build our own kitchen with butane burners; we’ve had to haul water, because we’ve been in remote areas on old crime scenes.”
Investigators have tied the explosion to Anthony Q. Warner, a 63-year-old Nashville area technology consultant, saying he built a bomb in a recreational vehicle he owned, drove it to an AT&T building near Second Avenue and Commerce Street early Christmas morning, and used a loudspeaker to warn residents to evacuate before detonating the bomb around 6:30 a.m.
Investigators said Warner died in the explosion that displaced residents, damaged commercial and residential buildings and rendered at least seven buildings uninhabitable. Three people suffered minor injuries.
Gary Morgan, Nashville First’s urban missions pastor, lives less than a mile from the explosion.
He said the crime makes clear the importance of developing relationships with neighbors and others in order to help in times of need.
He heard the explosion at home with his wife and two daughters, but was not required to evacuate.
“I think it will make us more aware of our neighbors, and continually coming alongside to know those needs. Most of those things are out of our hands. However, we can always ask,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to know who lives there, and know what businesses are there. … Those are our neighbors.
“I love how we had the opportunity to come alongside of the FBI and the team that was in there. We had conversations with … all kinds of people, just trying to be helpful. … There is something to be said about coming alongside people from all points in their journey, that I thought was so, so helpful.”
Lewis said First Nashville is helping displaced residents and business owners by participating in a recovery fund established for that purpose.
“While we are thankful that our building was not damaged, we are brokenhearted for the property damage and losses felt by those who were affected by the blast,” Lewis said. “These are our neighbors, and many of them have become personal friends of mine through our relationship with the Nashville Downtown Partnership.
“We care for people. When people are out of work due to a catastrophic and senseless act such as this, with no fault of their own, the least we can do is find tangible ways to be supportive of them, and when we do, to be generous in the process. We would be doing this even if our building had been damaged.”
Passarelli is among an elite group of volunteers who provide food for first responders at active crime scenes that are often dangerous. Volunteers must pass background checks, be fingerprinted and be vetted for security concerns.
“The security has to be tight because there are people who want to hurt police officers and hurt first responders,” Passarelli said. “It happens occasionally; we don’t want it to ever happen on our watch.”
Investigators have not determined Warner’s exact motives, but have linked him to various conspiracy theories including a belief that 5G broadband cellular technology was too invasive and was being used to spread the coronavirus, according to various news reports.