NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Six Metro Nashville police officers have been commended for their heroic response early Christmas morning when an RV exploded.
The officers responded to the call of gunfire and upon hearing an RV play a recorded message saying the vehicle contained a bomb, took several measures to evacuate as many people as possible from Second Avenue N.
City leaders applauded the officers for their swift action, putting the lives of others ahead of their own.
"Officers responded to a shots fired call. Unknowing anything else at the time, they began hearing announcements that something was about to detonate coming from an RV," said Chief John Drake. "Immediately they didn't think about their own lives, they didn't think about protecting themselves, they thought about the citizens of Nashville that protected them. They went about knocking on doors, and had they not made their efforts, we'd be talking about the tragedy of people and lives lost."
The responding officers were identified as:
- Officer Brenna Hosey
- Officer Tyler Luellen
- Officer Michael Sipos
- Officer Amanda Topping
- Officer James Wells
- Sergeant Timothy Miller
Metro police said the bomb squad was en route to the scene when the vehicle exploded.
Five of the officers recounted their experience during a press conference on Sunday morning.
Officer Luellen arrived to the scene first. He said after five minutes, they heard a timer counting down from the RV. Officers noticed the shades were down on the vehicle, but did not notice a tag. He said he didn't immediately notice the RV, but thought it may have been someone visiting town for Christmas.
Luellen said he didn't hear any gunshots and was waiting on getting access into a Second Avenue building when Officer Hosey arrived.
"As soon as she got out of the car, almost immediately, the RV started making an announcement," Luellen said.
Hosey said when she heard the announcement coming from the RV, she was confused.
"Is this really what we're hearing right now," Hosey recalled thinking.
Luellen then requested all units available from the Central Precinct to respond to the area. Officer Wells said upon hearing the tone of Luellen's voice during that call, he immediately knew the situation was serious.
"Not knowing that the RV was the vehicle in question at the time, we actually pulled right in front of it," Wells recounted. "When we heard the announcement, Topping was like 'is that the vehicle in question?' and Luellen said yes so we immediately hopped into our cars and backed out and started setting up a perimeter to start shutting down Commerce and Broadway to make sure nobody could come in our out."
Officer Topping said the call came at the very end of her shift. She said her wife called her when police received an "odd call." As she responded to the area of Second Avenue and Commerce Street, she began to hear the message playing from the RV.
"That's just stuff I'll never forget," Topping said. "The sound of the announcement saying the primary objective is to evacuate, evacuate now."
Wells and Topping then began to block Second Avenue off from Broadway and Commerce Street.
Officer Sipos and Hosey began clearing apartments on Second Avenue floor-by-floor. They began these evacuation efforts as the RV announced there would be 14 minutes until detonation.
The officers contacted six to seven apartments and asked residents to evacuate. After helping people evacuate, Luellen returned to Second Avenue.
After some time, music began to play from the RV - the sound of "Downtown" by Petula Clark. Once the song finished, the announcement of a bomb continued.
That's when the officers all went into buildings in the area to notify as many people as possible of the public safety concern.
Officer Luellen said once the announcement resumed, he saw a man walking a dog. The man was notified of the warning and shortly after the RV exploded. Luellen said he was knocked over by the explosion and the man was in shock.
Hosey said her sergeant's decision to move their patrol cars saved her life. She was also thrown backward from the blast. She made a call to a loved one to let them know she was OK, then got on the radio to check on Wells, who suffered hearing loss from the blast and did not respond to the radio.
"I was just trying to make sure that all our people were OK," Hosey said.
Wells said moments before the blast he was about to head back toward the RV but he heard God tell him to turn around and check on Topping.
"As I turn around, for me it felt like I only took three steps, then the music stops, and as I'm walking back toward Topping, I just see orange," Wells remembered. "Then I heard a loud boom. As I'm stumbling, because it rocked me that hard I started stumbling, I told myself 'stay on your feet, stay alive.'"
Sipos said the bomb pushed him and threw him and remembered seeing an orange sky before running into the plume of smoke.
.@MNPDNashville Officers are extremely emotional recapping their response to 2nd. Avenue. Describing embracing one another and making quick calls to loved ones as countdown expired @nc5 pic.twitter.com/hXWbGtdpXu— Hannah McDonald (@Hannah_NC5) December 27, 2020
Topping recalled seeing Wells walk toward her seconds before the explosion.
"We're just walking toward each other and I just saw the biggest flames I've ever seen. The biggest explosion," Topping said. "I just lost it and started to sprint toward him."
"I've never grabbed somebody so hard in my life," she said.
"They might not think they're heroes because they go about this job each and every day, but they are our heroes, and they had a really heroic effort that morning," Chief Drake said.
Sgt. Miller was not present at the press conference because he was traveling out of town on Sunday morning.