Williamsburg police say they have one suspect so far regarding an incendiary device that was set off outside Tractor Supply early Friday morning, and think the motive for the attack was probably retaliation.
Fortunately the store wasn’t damaged and the fire was quickly extinguished.
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird said early Tuesday afternoon that there had been no new major developments in the case in recent days, which he can announce publicly, and police are still trying to track down the suspect.
About 9:20 a.m. Friday, Bird said that about one dozen law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies were in the process of collecting evidence for fingerprint and other analysis, and were going through a list of former employees and reviewing video from area security cameras.
He hopes to make an arrest in the case in the near future.
About 4:45 a.m., a couple of Tractor Supply employees reported to work and smelled smoke and plastic burning. They went around the store to investigate and saw some embers burning on some crates, Bird said.
“They stomped the embers out to keep the fire from spreading and they called 911. When police and fire got here, they discovered a hazardous device. It has the appearance of an explosive device,’ Bird said.
Authorities secured the scene, moved to a safe distance away from the device, and contacted the Kentucky State Police Hazardous Device Team and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
After further investigation, authorities determined that it was likely an incendiary device, which is designed to start fires, rather than an explosive device, Bird said.
“It appears that it is an incendiary device set up on a timer with batteries. It is a little more sophisticated than what we are used to seeing with incendiary devices, but it is definitely a device obviously with the intent of causing fire to the store here,” he added.
“I think you could probably construct it fairly easily from the Internet. It is not something that the average person is going to construct.”
If you are facing the front of the store with the interstate behind you, the fire started towards the rear left corner of the building.
Behind the store are four rows of pallets stacked about eight feet high that run for much of the length of the store. After the pallets are bags of pine shavings, fertilizer and so forth.
“There are a lot of things back there that would have went up really quickly,” Bird noted. “It was just luck those employees just happened to be coming in early to unload a shipment. Typically, they don’t get here until 7 a.m. The device had a timer on it. We were very lucky.”
Had the wind been blowing in a different direction or the device set in a different location, Bird said the outcome could have been a lot different.
“Obviously there is some very flammable stuff around the store. I am guessing that corner was picked because obviously it is not covered by surveillance,” Bird said.
The nearby Whitley County Health Department was temporarily shut down Friday morning due to the main road leading to it, Penny Lane, being blocked.
Bird said he thinks the health department ended up operating on a one-hour delay.
Tractor Supply opened for business about 9 a.m.
Williamsburg police are still investigating the case, and were assisted at the scene by the Kentucky State Police Hazardous Device Team, ATF, the U.S. Marshal’s Office, the Williamsburg Fire Department, Whitley County EMS, and Whitley County Emergency Management.