Bryce Reed, enigma of the Texas blast tragedy

First responder Bryce Reed became a major media figure in the aftermath of the explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Now he’s been arrested for having bomb-making supplies.

Eric Gay/AP
EMT Bryce Reed, center, attends a memorial service for victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. He has since been arrested for having bomb-making supplies.

Bryce Reed seemed to be everywhere in the hours and days after a fertilizer plant blew up in West, Texas, on April 17, killing 14 people, 12 of them first responders.

An EMT, he was one of the first responders on the horrific scene; he became a frequently quoted media source, giving emotional interviews to reporters about the loss of his best friend in the explosion; but his actions also began to rub some West residents and officials the wrong way, to the point where he was let go as an EMT two days after the blast.

“I’m messed up, and I will be for a long time,” Mr. Reed, who is in his early 30s, told The Dallas Morning News on May 2. “I’m learning I have issues that I haven’t dealt with in the past and that are coming back.”

The fire and explosion have been widely seen as a tragic industrial accident, but all that changed Friday with the arrest of Reed for allegedly trying to get rid of bomb-making supplies on April 26, and an announcement by law enforcement that a new criminal probe had been opened into the explosion

Publicly, the US Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas is not suggesting any connection between Reed and the explosion.

"At this time, authorities will not speculate whether the possession of the unregistered destructive device has any connection to the West fertilizer plant explosion,” the US attorney's office said in a statement.

But even without the arrest Reed had already become synonymous with the blast in town and around the country, after appearing in various news accounts and after giving a taped eulogy for a colleague, Cyrus Reed (no relation), at a memorial service with President Obama.

But according to recent Facebook posts, it appears Reed had also been facing personal criticism for his actions in the wake of the blast.

In a post on Tuesday, he wrote, “Was I emotionally devastated? Hell yes I was. Have your brother die, your town explode, your crew be emotionally wrecked, and in the midst of it have your wife leave you because you are lost in your own emotions: ALL IN THE SAME WEEK, and see how you fare. … [P]lease, for the love of God, quit picking me apart.”

Today, the Dallas Morning News is reporting that Reed wasn’t always who he portrayed himself to be, and that even his relationship with Cyrus Reed, whom he called his “brother,” may not have been as close as he told people.

A Los Angeles Times story dated April 18 describes Reed, an “incident commander,” bracing himself for “[having to tell] his best friend’s family that he had died after both of them responded to a fertilizer plant fire that preceded the blast.”

But on Friday, Cyrus Reed’s family had a different response to questions from the Dallas Morning News. “He convinced us that he and Cyrus were very close, like brothers,” Sarah Reed, Cyrus Reed’s sister, said. “But I want people to know they are not brothers, and he is not part of our family.”

In a profile, the Dallas Morning News found other inconsistencies in Reed’s self-portrayal, including degrees listed on his resume that it appears he never actually completed.

Residents began to have more serious questions about Reed after it appeared he had woven different stories to different people about what had happened, and alternately telling people he was a police officer and a government representative. The Morning News also reported that Reed is listed as the contact person for a t-shirt fundraiser that’s brought in $33,177 in sales.

“Integrity is so hard, especially when it is attacked,” Reed wrote early Monday morning in a Facebook post. “I am so sick of being strong. I am so sick of crying. You try to do the right thing, and get kicked for it. I’m so done. I seek no accolades or commendations, I simply wanted to honor the fallen.”

“[I]t’s not exactly known what is believable about Reed,” Dallas Morning News reporters Christina Rosales, Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin surmised on Saturday.

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