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New details in massive Arlington home explosion: Suspect had stockpiled gasoline, guns

Arlington House Explosion
A home is seen exploding from a distance, Monday night, Dec. 4, 2023, in Arlington, Va. Arlington County Police in a Virginia suburb of the nations capital are investigating an explosion at a residence where officers were trying to serve a search warrant Monday. The Arlington County Police Department said in a statement that the suspect fired several shots inside the home and that an explosion happened. Arlington is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)
a vehicle and other charred remains of the home
The charred remains of an Arlington, Virginia, home the day after it exploded. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)
Officials are still investigating the explosion. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)
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FILE — Fire and police officials walk around the scene of a house explosion as an Arlington County Fire Department ladder truck sprays water down on the remains of the building on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Arlington, Va. On Friday, Dec. 8, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming an explosion at the home in Arlington, Monday night was caused by a firefight with U.S. federal agents that either ignited a gas pipeline or led a terrorist to set off a suicide vest. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File)
House Explosion Virginia
Fire and police officials walk around the scene of a house explosion as an Arlington County Fire Department ladder truck sprays water down on the remains of the building on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
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Arlington House Explosion
a vehicle and other charred remains of the home
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House Explosion Virginia

The explosion that leveled an Arlington, Virginia, duplex last December was intentionally ignited in the home’s basement by the man who lived there, who had stockpiled as much as 35 gallons of gasoline and barricaded himself inside the home.

During a news conference Friday, more than six months after the explosion rocked the Bluemont neighborhood, authorities revealed new details of the blast and provided a thorough timeline of the 3 hours and 40 minutes standoff leading up to the explosion, based on body camera footage from responding officers.

Authorities said James Yoo, 56, had barricaded himself inside the home on N. Burlington Street, after firing a flare gun from his window into the neighborhood dozens of times on the evening of Dec. 4. That triggered a large police presence as officers attempted to negotiate with him and sought a search warrant to enter the home.

The explosion came after authorities breached the front door and attempted to enter the dwelling. Yoo was killed in the blast.

Arlington County Police Chief Andy Penn said officers fired a total of 16 rounds of pepper spray and tear gas into the home in an attempt to get Yoo to surrender, but that those munitions did not cause the blast.

Ioannis Douroupis, an official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said a trained team of investigators, who combed through the blast site, determined Yoo had spread gasoline around the house and then ignited it from the home’s basement.

In the debris, investigators found two 5-gallon containers of gasoline and one 20-25 gallon container of gasoline.

The exact ignition source is not known, but Douroupis said a cache of weapons was found in the home, including two shotguns, a 9-mm pistol, multiple flare guns and large amounts of ammunition. Yoo could also have used matches or a lighter, he said.

The police chief said a neighbor reported Yoo had large amounts of charcoal, lighter fluid and bleach delivered to his home in the months before the blast.

Minute-by-minute timeline

In addition to body camera footage released by police Friday, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney published a 32-page report laying out a nearly minute-by-minute look at how officers responded to the incident.

It all began unfolding about 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 4, when an Arlington officer drafting a report in his cruiser off N. George Mason Drive heard what sounded like gunshots coming from a row of townhomes on the other side of nearby Fields Park.

When the officer went to investigate, body camera footage shows him encountering a frightened child near the park. “I’m scared!” the child cries.

Eventually, officers pinpointed the sound of the shots as coming from the back window of the duplex on N. Burlington Street.

At one point, body camera footage captures a gloved hand holding a flare gun emerging from the top of an open widow and firing. Over a 25-minute period, a total of 41 discharged flares were captured on officers’ body cameras, authorities said, landing in the park, near Escuela Key Elementary School and along N. George Mason Drive, a busy thoroughfare.

Eventually, a large group of officers, along with the Critical Incident Response Team, had surrounded the home where Yoo remained barricaded, refusing to communicate with officers.

The video footage shows the officers gathered in the front lawn as flashing police lights flicker across a neighbor’s blow-up snowman Christmas decorations.

By 6 p.m., officers had evacuated the neighboring unit in the duplex and, based on his erratic behavior, sought a search warrant to enter the home.

By 8:02 p.m., police had hauled in an armored vehicle and were using a public address system to attempt to communicate with Yoo.

By 8:10 p.m., body camera footage shows a long, mechanical arm attached to the front of the armored vehicle, extending toward the front door and then breaking it down. That’s when police said Yoo began firing multiple rounds from a firearm toward officers, which the police chief called “a significant escalation” by Yoo.

Over the next 8 and 1/2 minutes, officers deployed 16 rounds of tear gas and pepper spray, authorities said.

Then at 8:24 p.m., body camera footage shows the home explode, sending a large fireball into the sky as the brick facade of the town house crumbles.

Ten other homes were damaged in the blast. No police or first responders were sent to the hospital on the night of the explosion, but authorities said Friday that many sought treatment for injuries in the days and weeks afterward.

“I recognize how devastating this incident was for our community, particularly people who lived on or near N. Burlington Street,” Penn, the police chief, said during the news conference. “I can assure you that it was equally devastating for police officers and members of the first responder community.”

He added, “They worked hard to resolve this incident safely, mitigate as many potential risk as they could, and even after the explosion showed deep care and concern for each other and the surrounding community, as they did not know what if anything may occur next.”

FBI: Yoo acted alone

Sanjay Virmani, special agent in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Counterterrorism Division, said Friday that investigators have concluded Yoo acted alone and there was no connection to terrorism.

Neighbors said Yoo was odd and exhibited erratic behavior, such as covering his windows in black plastic, dumped trash from a window into his backyard and strewed toilet papers on trees outside his home.

Authorities said he posted paranoid rants about his neighbors and , called an FBI tip line multiple times to report alleged fraud committed against him and filed multiple lawsuits dismissed by judges as frivolous.

Penn, the police chief, told reporters Yoo’s social media postings indicated anti-government and anti-law enforcement beliefs, but the postings didn’t seem to indicate any immediate threat.

“As far as motive, you know, unfortunately, we’re not going to know,” Penn said.

WTOP staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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