North Carolina investigators were hunting for at least one suspect after two electrical substations were “targeted” in an “intentional, willful, and malicious act” on Saturday evening, with damage so extensive to both facilities that just under 40,000 customers were warned to brace for possible outages until Thursday.
Officials speaking at a Sunday afternoon press conference announced a county-wide state of emergency. A curfew of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. beginning Sunday night was established to protect affected residents, who were advised to stay home or seek shelter at a local sports complex.
“It’s going to be very, very, very dark,” state Sen. Tom McInnis (R) said, “and it’s going to be chilly tonight. And we don’t need to have anyone out on the streets—that is the reason for our curfew this evening.”
Calling it “a very serious situation,” Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said that local, state, and federal officials, including FBI agents, were coordinating their response to what he’d previously characterized as a “criminal occurrence,” adding on Sunday that he’d never experienced anything like it in his four decades in law enforcement.
“Folks, we’re living in some challenging times,” Fields said.
The sheriff confirmed that firearms had been involved in the attacks. “They pulled up—somebody did—and opened fire on the substation,” he said, describing the first of two near-identical incidents. He was unable to comment on a possible motive, or whether the assaults rose above vandalism, saying it was up to federal investigators to decide what constitutes domestic terrorism.
Fields also said that deputies had ruled out “a young lady” as a suspect after visiting her home and questioning her on Sunday. When asked by a reporter how investigators had determined the woman had not been involved, the sheriff answered, “We, uh, did law enforcement.”
The individual was not named, but Fields was likely referring to Emily Grace Rainey, a local conservative activist who had written cryptically about the power outages after they occurred. Rainey, who’d organized a protest against a local drag show on Saturday, had drawn attention by writing on Facebook that “the power is out in Moore County and I know why.”
Two hours later, she posted that she had been visited by law enforcement officers, and she was “sorry they wasted their time.”
“I told them that God works in mysterious ways and is responsible for the outage,” she continued. “I used the opportunity to tell them about the immoral drag show and the blasphemies screamed by its supporters.”
No link between the show and the substation attacks had been established as of Sunday, according to Fields. “Is it possible? Yes. Anything’s possible,” he said. “But we’ve not been able to tie anything back to the drag show.”
The power had gone out in the Sunrise Theater in downtown Southern Pines about an hour into the show, titled “Downtown Divas,” but host Naomi Dix was able to keep the revue going. “I asked that everyone turn on their phone flashlights to illuminate the room,” she told The News & Observer, adding that she then led the crowd in a rendition of Beyoncé’s ‘Halo.’
At the press conference, Fields promised that officials were working around the clock to get operations back to normal. “We faced something last night here in Moore County that we’ve never faced before, but I promised you we’re gonna get through this, and we’re gonna get through this together,” he said.
A spokesman for Duke Energy, Jeff Brooks, said that the agency was “pursuing multiple paths of restoration” and “looking at some pretty sophisticated repairs” after multiple pieces of equipment in both substations were damaged in the attacks. Some pieces would need to be replaced entirely, meaning a “multi-day restoration for most customers,” he added.
Approximately 47,000 homes and businesses are serviced by Duke Energy in Moore County, roughly 36,000 of which were without power on Sunday evening, according to an agency outage map.
In the minutes before the press conference, Moore County Schools announced on Facebook that all schools would be closed on Monday, promising more information to come on the week ahead in the near future.
Moore County Manager Wayne Vest called the events of the weekend “unprecedented” locally. “But we are strong, and we are resilient,” he added. “Our number one focus right now is getting our citizens back their power.”