Paramedic denies role in Texas blast
By JACK HEALY
The New York Times | May 12,2013
WEST, Texas — A volunteer paramedic who became a public face of mourning after last month’s deadly blast at a fertilizer plant in this Central Texas town denied having any involvement in the explosion, his lawyer said Saturday.
The medic, Bryce A. Reed, 31, was arrested Friday on charges he possessed components of a pipe bomb. Hours later, the authorities in Texas said they were opening a criminal investigation into the explosion, which killed 14, injured 200 and ravaged dozens of buildings.
Law enforcement authorities have not identified Reed as a suspect in the blast, nor have they indicated any link between his arrest and the April 17 explosion.
But Saturday, as people here continued clearing away debris and patching their homes back together, new questions arose about the grief-stricken emergency medical technician who stepped into the media glare after the explosion.
His lawyer, Jonathan Sibley, said Reed wanted to address any speculation.
“Mr. Reed had no involvement whatsoever in the explosion,” Sibley said in a statement. “Mr. Reed was one of the first responders and lost friends, family and neighbors in that disaster. Mr. Reed is heartbroken for the friends he lost, and remains resolute in his desire to assist in the rebuilding of his community.”
Sibley said Reed would plead not guilty to the bomb-possession charge at a court hearing Wednesday.
Reed’s stepfather, Gary Nelson, told The Dallas Morning News there was “not a chance” Reed could be connected to the explosion, and neighbors and local officials said they hoped and prayed that was the case.
“I feel very confident that one has nothing to do with the other,” said Tommy Muska, West’s mayor.
Still, people who knew Reed said his own portrayals of himself sometimes seemed at odds with reality. At a public memorial service on April 25, he offered a eulogy for a first responder named Cyrus Reed, referring to the two men as brothers as he described their tight friendship. One online obituary even listed Bryce Reed as a survivor of Cyrus Reed.
But Cyrus Reed’s father, Mark, said that the two men were not related, and that his family had not met Bryce Reed until after the blast.
“He’s represented himself as a longtime friend and all that,” Mark Reed said in a telephone interview. “Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.”
For weeks after the explosion, Bryce Reed gave frequent interviews about how he had run toward the fireball to rescue survivors, and he spoke extensively about the grief of losing friends. He was identified as a paramedic in reports as recently as May 6, but the authorities said Reed had in fact been “let go” from the West EMS on April 19, two days after the blast.
He is still listed as an active paramedic in state databases, though state health officials say his arrest prompted them to open an investigation. Dr. George Smith, the head of West’s EMS unit, declined to explain why Reed had been dismissed.
“It’s tough because most of my guys did truly great work,” Smith said. “And so did he. He’s an excellent paramedic.”
Reed’s father-in-law, Max Tooker, said agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives came to his home Friday to interview Reed’s wife, Brittany. Tooker said Brittany Reed was not connected “in any way, shape or form” to her husband’s legal troubles, and that she was now staying with relatives in Waco.
“She didn’t know anything,” Tooker said. “She had no inclination, no clue that anything was coming down at all.”
Neighbors said Bryce Reed spoke of traveling through Dubai and Europe or working at the Pentagon, and once mentioned that he was a SWAT officer in Waco. On his LinkedIn resume, he said he had received a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Excelsior College, but Mike Lesczinski, a college spokesman, said Reed had never been a student there.
His resume also lists him as the president and chief executive of the Silentium Group and the director of operations of Bare Fruit Ministries, two organizations that appear to consist almost solely of Reed or his wife, and whose phone numbers led to Reed’s voice mail. Crystal LeDane, who lives three homes down from Reed’s red-brick duplex, described him as a good neighbor whose stories about himself occasionally perplexed her. Now, she said, she was left with even more questions. “None of it adds up,” she said.