State and local law enforcement authorities in West, Texas, are now investigating whether last month’s fertilizer plant explosion was due to criminal activity, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced on Friday.
“This disaster has severely impacted the community of West, and we want to ensure that no stone goes unturned and that all the facts related to this incident are uncovered,” Texas DPS director Steven McCraw said in a statement. The investigation will be conducted by the Texas Rangers and the McLennan County Sheriff’s office.
Authorities also arrested West, Texas, EMS responder Bryce Reed on Friday morning and charged him under federal law with possession of a pipe bomb. Reed was among those who responded to the plant explosion, though officials have not yet said whether his arrest is in any way connected to their investigation into the source of the blast.
The fertilizer plant which exploded in mid-April, killing 14 people and upending life in the small town of West, had been the target of criminal activity before: “At least 11 reports of burglaries and five separate ammonia leaks at West Fertilizer Co over the past 12 years,” according to Reuters. In at least one of those instances, the burglars were reportedly attempt to steal anhydrous ammonia, which the plant stores in vast quantities, and can be used to cook meth.
Last week, the Texas State House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety held a hearing looking at fertilizer plant oversight and regulation in the aftermath of the explosion. U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chair Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has announced that her committee will also conduct an inquiry into “the circumstances surrounding the chemical disaster in West, Texas, as well as an examination of the chemical safety laws that apply to comparable facilities.”