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NEW YORK — After midnight Mass on Christmas, Father Jayd Neely chose to sleep on his office couch at St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows in downtown Nashville. He lives at the rectory of a nearby church, but figured it would be easier with another Mass later that day.
He restarted his day at 6 a.m. with morning prayer. Then, almost exactly a half an hour later, the church was rattled with the rest of the downtown by an explosion about three blocks away.
“It shocked the whole building,” Neely told Crux. “I felt two blasts. I felt an air explosion then felt it in the ground a few seconds later. My initial thought, because there’s a lot of construction going on in downtown Nashville, at first I thought it was a construction charge.”
It turns out what Neely felt was the effects of a bomb set off in an RV on Second Avenue North in front of the AT&T building in downtown Nashville. Authorities later identified the culprit as 63-year-old Anthony Quinn Warner through DNA remains found at the scene.
Other than Warner, there are no reported deaths, but three people were injured. His motive for setting off the bomb is still unknown.
At the time of the Christmas morning explosion the streets were empty. Reports said residents in the area first heard the sound of gunshots, followed by a warning message emanating from the RV that a bomb would go off in 15 minutes, which led police officers to clear the area.
Pictures of the aftermath show the downtown street flooded with debris and businesses ravaged by the blast. Neely said he went outside after the explosion but didn’t see anything. Someone later texted him the news.
“I opened up the side of the church and looked down one side of the street, then down the other side of the street. No smoke, nobody running around, so I didn’t think it was anything in the area,” Neely said.
At first, he also thought the 173-year old church – the oldest in downtown Nashville – was unscathed, but upon further review a stained-glass window on its southeast side was cracked. Structurally he thinks it’s safe, but he’s calling in an engineer just in case. The church was also one of several downtown buildings to lose phone and internet service.
Because Neely was already at St. Mary’s he didn’t cancel the scheduled 12:10 p.m. Mass.
However, police had blocked off most of the downtown streets preventing many parishioners from getting there. The music director also couldn’t make it and had to cancel, so there was no choir, making it a Christmas Mass without music.
In the end, about 40 people showed up. Neely said it was mostly people staying at nearby hotels or downtown residents. He originally expected about 100-120 people. In his conversation with Crux, he lamented the fact that Christmas Mass was affected after an already trying year.
“It felt like things had started to get back to normal. We were passed a lot of this and then this happens, which was obviously a deliberate act and meant to spoil Christmas for people,” Neely said. “Evil was the word I used that someone would intentionally do it on Christmas day.”
Neely didn’t mention the explosion at the Mass, but he did mention it this past weekend in a message to parishioners about all of the hardships 2020 has presented.
“My message was that pandemics don’t last, economic setbacks don’t last, and terrorists don’t last and it’s God and the Kingdom of God that are going to last forever and other things are just temporary,” Neely said. “That God’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg