The FBI has joined the probe into power outages for a North Carolina county of some 100,000 residents, as the motive for gunfire that damaged two substations remains unknown, and no arrests have been made.
A curfew would go into effect from 9 p.m. Sunday until 5 a.m. Monday, Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields announced at a press conference. Power remained out for roughly 35,400 customers as of Monday morning, down by several thousand from the peak of the outages over the weekend.
Just after 7 p.m. Saturday, power outages began in the Carthage area before spreading to the greater majority of central and southern Moore County. Power crews and deputies who responded to the scene found “extensive damage” at two substations that was being investigated as a “criminal occurrence” and “intentional vandalism.”
Fields said Sunday the either an individual or a group of people breached gates at the substations and fired multiple shots. Some 40,000 customers were initially without power.
Fields said he had no information about there being truth to rumors that the outages were somehow linked to a protest at a drag show. “No, none that I’m aware of. Is it possible? Yes, anything’s possible. But we have not been able to tie anything back to the drag show,” Fields told reporters Sunday.
The sheriff also said he had no information yet about the potential motive. “No motivation. No group has stepped up to acknowledge or accept that they are the ones who’ve done it,” Fields said.
“We faced something last night in Moore County that we’ve never faced before,” Fields said. “I can promise you to the perpetrators out there, we will find you.”
“Evidence at the scene indicated a firearm had been used to disable the equipment,” Fields said. “We’re constantly working with the FBI, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), all of our state and local other law enforcement folks are here, and we’re working around the clock and will continue to do so.”
“Folks, we’re living in some challenging times. Challenging times that I never thought in my 40 years in law enforcement we would be seeing things and dealing with things we would be dealing with.”
Jeff Brooks, from Duke Energy, said Sunday he expected outages to last as long as until Thursday.
“During our investigation of the outage, we did determine that there had been intentional impact on the substation, damaging multiple pieces of equipment in the substation and causing power to go out there,” Brooks said. “Unlike, perhaps a storm, where you could go in and reroute power somewhere else, that was not an option in this case, so repair has to be completed. In many cases, some of that equipment will have to be replaced, and our crews are currently working on the repair plan.”
A state of emergency went into effect at 4 p.m. Sunday, Moore County Director of Public Safety Bryan Phillips said.
A shelter was opened at Moore County Sports Complex in Carthage. EMS, fire and 911 operations are operating as normal, but call volumes did go up Saturday night, Phillips said.
“Reach out to your neighbors. To those people who you know that may have needs and come to their aid as you’re able,” Moore County Chairman Frank Quis said at the press conference on Sunday. “We in county government can reach out, but we don’t reach out to everyone so its incumbent to our citizens to step up and be our solution here.”
Schools were closed countywide Monday for students and staff, Moore County Schools superintendent Tim Locklear announced, saying the district would be monitoring the situation throughout the week.
“Folks, this was [a] terrible act. And it appears to be an intentional, willful, and malicious act,” state Sen. Tom McInnis said. “The perpetrator will be brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
“I challenge our members of the community if you do not have to go out for any reason, please stay home tonight,” McInnis added. “We might have to do this of course tomorrow night and into the following night. But tonight, for certain, stay at home. The roads are dangerous.”
Asked if this rises to the level of domestic terrorism, Fields said, “I can’t answer that, again we’re looking at all avenues. That’s the reason I’ve got the professionals, the federal folks, they deal with the domestic terrorism more than locals. So, they’re on board, and they’re working with us to determine exactly who’s done this. Now, I can say this. This individual who’s done this, it was targeted. It wasn’t random.”
Moore County is about an hour’s drive southwest of the state capital of Raleigh and is known for golf resorts in Pinehurst and other communities.
Fields said he has been in contact with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and U.S. Reps. Dan Bishop and Rich Hudson, who all offered the full extent of assistance necessary.
“Last night, unknown individuals vandalized at least two substations in Moore County with criminal intent,” Hudson said in a statement. “Motive for this crime remains unknown. Many Moore County residents remain without power. I want to thank Sheriff Ronnie Fields and all local law enforcement as well as the SBI and FBI for their quick action to respond to the incident. I have also been in contact with Duke Energy and know they are working on all options to restore power as quickly as possible.”
“I appreciate the swift response from local and state emergency responders in Moore County to protect public safety and work with Duke Energy to restore power,” Cooper tweeted. “An attack like this on critical infrastructure is a serious, intentional crime and I expect state and federal authorities to thoroughly investigate and bring those responsible to justice.”
Fields also spoke about an incident at a Walmart in Moore County that happened during the outages. The sheriff said while the store was waiting on generators to arrive, someone slipped in and tried to shoplift. That individual was taken into custody. Several law enforcement agencies were also providing security assistance at power substations while the extensive repair is underway.
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