Investigators – They found nearly two dozen shell casings from a high powered rifle — Two possible clues of motivation surrounding the weekend attack on two North Carolina substations in an extremist act are being watched, according to law enforcement sources briefed on the investigation.
The news comes as Moore County’s major utility is restoring power to the last 1,200 customers of the 45,000 homes and businesses that were initially without power.
On Wednesday, officials also announced rewards totaling $75,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Saturday’s attack.
One thread involved articles by extremists on online forums encouraging attacks on critical infrastructure. The second thread focuses on the recent spate of disruptions to LGBTQ+ events across the country by domestic extremists.
The FBI and the North Carolina State Bureau are assisting with the investigation.
Investigators have no evidence linking the North Carolina attack to a cross-dressing incident at a theater in the same county, the sources said, but given the rising tensions and armed confrontations around similar LBGTQ+ incidents across the country, the two incidents Time is being considered by CNN.
Over the past two years, anti-government groups have begun using online forums to urge followers to attack critical infrastructure, including power grids. They publish documents and even instructions outlining vulnerabilities and recommending the use of high powered rifles.
A 14-page guide obtained by CNN cites a 2013 sniper attack on a high-voltage substation on the edge of Silicon Valley that destroyed 17 transformers and cost PG&E $15 million to repair.
In that case, the gunman fired more than 100 rounds in about 20 minutes and disappeared a minute before police arrived. The case remains unsolved.
While investigators have found no rifles in the North Carolina shooting, the shell casings can still provide key evidence. A law enforcement source told CNN that the bullets used in the California incident were of a different caliber than those used in North Carolina.
Investigators are considering the timing of the Moore County shooting — 7 p.m. Saturday night — to coincide with the start of a drag show sponsored by the local LBGTQ+ community, sources said. According to Sandhills PRIDE, audience members used mobile phone flashlights to illuminate the stage for the final song, but the show was unable to continue due to a power outage.
Officials said the gunfire that knocked out power to much of the county for days was a “malicious” and “deliberate” attack. The two substations are approximately 10 miles apart.
No suspects were announced for the outage.
Sheriff Ronnie Fields has said whoever fired at the substation “knows what they’re doing.” The sheriff said on Sunday that no group “has come forward and acknowledged or accepted that they were the ones that[did]this.”
As of Wednesday morning, 35,000 customers were without power, but that number had dropped to 1,200 by the time the 4 p.m. press conference began, according to Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks.
With that information in mind, county officials said the nighttime curfew will permanently end at 5 a.m. Thursday.
Bullets recovered from the scene, as well as brass casings found not far away, are the few physical evidence investigators have.
Due to the heat generated by the chambers of high-powered rifles when firing rapidly, fingerprints can be burned off—and nearly impossible to recover from spent cartridge cases. Still, brass might provide valuable clues.
Investigators can enter the casings into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, a database of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The database records three-dimensional images of the shell casings and can match them to any other shell casings fired by the same gun at another crime scene, or to this gun if the weapon is located.
The location where the shell casings were found allowed investigators to pinpoint the location of the shot. Knowing where the shooter opened fire could lead to discoveries like shoe prints and tire tracks.
Schools are currently closed until Thursday, many shops and restaurants are closed, homes have no heat or refrigerators, and drivers drive through intersections without traffic lights.
The Moore County Sports Center set up a Red Cross-operated emergency shelter to help provide shelter, food, showers and other services to those affected. It will remain as a shelter through noon Thursday, officials said.
Nakasha Jackson, who came to pick up some hot food from the shelter, said the power outage was difficult for her 1-year-old.
“No lights, no electricity, nothing can be done. The kid is afraid of the dark,” she told CNN.
Sometimes she has to walk an hour each way to get food, Jackson said. “It’s ridiculous. It should never have been done,” Jackson said.
The lives of residents who depend on electric medical equipment have also changed dramatically. One woman told CNN she came to the shelter because her CPAP machine ran out of power overnight.
After sleeping without it for two days, she said she started feeling unwell and came to the shelter for help.
Others sought shelter out of fear for their safety as they struggled to keep their homes warm.
“It’s different. It’s hard to sleep, you know. But at the end of the day, I’d rather be somewhere warm, with food and care, than somewhere cold,” Amber Sampson said.
In addition to having to stay in a shelter, Sampson has been unable to work since Sunday because her employer also lost power — a problem that could end up costing her hundreds of dollars.
Authorities expressed outrage over the attack, with Southern Pines Mayor Carol Haney calling it a cruel and selfish act.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper expressed concern for businesses and residents in nursing homes.
“When we look at all the money lost by businesses here over Christmas, when we see people in nursing homes facing power outages, hospitals having to turn off generators and not being able to do certain types of operations at this time – all These are deep concerns here, and we cannot let this happen,” the Democrat told CNN on Tuesday.
“This is a malicious criminal attack on an entire community.”