ARLINGTON, Va. – A man who shot at police officers trying to enter his Virginia home before the house exploded is believed to be dead, authorities said Tuesday, as details emerged about numerous grievances he expressed against neighbors and others on social media and in lawsuits.
James Yoo, 56, was identified by Arlington County Police Chief Andy Penn as the owner of the duplex and the person who fired a “flare-type gun” from inside the house more than 30 times around 4:45 p.m. Monday in the Bluemont neighborhood in Arlington.
Investigators have not yet identified human remains found inside the home but "all factors point to that it’s this individual (Yoo)," Penn added.
Police were trying to enter the home with a search warrant when the suspect fired multiple gunshots. Penn said it wasn’t clear where the shots were coming from or what the suspect was firing at.
And then just before 8:30 p.m., the house exploded, Penn said. The blast — which was felt for miles — tore apart the house, shooting flames and debris into the air.
"Much of our effort was to engage him in communication and have a conversation to try to bring this to a very peaceful and voluntary solution," Penn said. "The communications were not successful and he was not particularly cooperative when communicating."
At around 7 p.m., authorities began to evacuate residents in nearby homes, including people who lived in the other part of the duplex. The fire department also turned off the gas running to the house from the meter.
The fire was under control by 10:30 p.m., but the Arlington County Fire Department remained on the scene to battle spotfires, police said.
Police said three officers received minor injuries, but no one was taken to the hospital. About 10 houses were damaged in the blast, and some neighbors were receiving shelter and housing assistance, Arlington Deputy County Manager for Public Safety Aaron Miller said.
Suspect contacted FBI repeatedly, made 'concerning' social media posts
Yoo allegedly made "concerning social media posts” that authorities said they are investigating. He had publicly posted grievances against multiple people in his life, including on LinkedIn where he recently posted paranoid rants about his neighbors and a former co-worker.
The suspect also filed four lawsuits between 2018 and 2022 against his ex-wife, younger sister, a moving company, and the New York Supreme Court, the Associated Press reported. Each case was dismissed and some were described by judges as “convoluted” or “confused.”
In a 163-page federal lawsuit filed in 2018 against Yoo's ex-wife, younger sister, and a hospital, Yoo said he was committed against his will.
He described in the suit that his then-wife drove him to Rochester General Hospital in November 2015 “against his will" and he denied having any thoughts of suicide or prior depression. Yoo cited hospital records in the cite that referenced a suicide note that he left for his then-wife, which he denied writing.
He also had a history of contacting the FBI through phone calls, online tips, and letters to file complaints, authorities said. FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Director David Sundberg said Yoo had communicated with the FBI “over a number of years.”
"I would characterize these communications as primarily complaints about alleged frauds he believed were perpetrated against him," Sundberg said. The complaints did not lead to any investigations, Sundberg said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said federal agents and federal fire investigators were at the scene and assisting local authorities. Police also were investigating.
Across the Potomac River, the White House was monitoring developments, according to a spokeswoman.
“Our thoughts are with the police officers that were injured in that explosion,” Olivia Dalton, the White House principal deputy press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday. “We’re grateful to law enforcement that handled that situation very swiftly. I can tell you the ATF is assisting with the local law enforcement investigation into that matter, but beyond that I would just refer you to Arlington Police Department.”
'Craziest thing I've ever seen'
Questions about the incident continued to swirl Tuesday and left many in the neighborhood unsettled.
An elementary school is just a few blocks away, as is an Arlington County soccer field and fire station. The park and residential neighborhood were cordoned off by yellow police tape Tuesday, but at Escuela Key Elementary School across the street, kids were in class.
Eric Southard and his wife, Jackie, arrived home Tuesday, having spent the night in a hotel after witnessing Monday's explosion. The pair were headed to the Cayman Islands for their honeymoon but needed to pick up their passports. They first had to persuade police to let them cross the yellow tape blocking off the street.
A drone buzzed over the area as the couple wheeled their suitcases down the street. Eric Southard said he saw something going on nearby the day before. He started to pay closer attention as afternoon turned into evening, and the police presence grew. The pair watched the situation develop from the floor-to-ceiling windows of the townhome they rent on the same block.
“Please come out with your hands up,” Eric Southard said, recalling what police were saying to the apparent suspect inside. “This is Arlington police.”
Each request from the police was met with a bang. “You think: 'He’s going to come out,'” he said.
Instead, the house exploded.
“It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen," Southard said. "We absolutely love" this area, which is home to many young families, he said.
From about a mile away, Elaine Steele's home shook.
“It was a jarring explosion,” said Steele, who took a walk around the neighborhood Tuesday to see what was left of the home. “It sounded like it was closer by than what it was.”
Steele said she assumed the boom was from a transformer blowing out, but her power stayed on, which allowed her to keep watching TV, including Monday night's episode of “The Voice.”
It was only later that she read about the explosion.
'Just one heck of a concussive blow'
When he first heard the explosion from about a third of a mile away, Bob Maynes thought a tree fell on his house.
"The sound itself was just one heck of a concussive blow," Maynes told USA TODAY. "It was like nothing I'd I've ever experienced."
Maynes said he had seen flares in the sky earlier in the day but didn't realize at the time that they came from the house that exploded.
After checking the inside of his house, Maynes joined a group of alarmed neighbors gathered in a McDonald's parking lot next to the police line.
"By that time, it seemed to be generally known that a house had blown up," Maynes said. He learned from law enforcement at the scene that the house exploded after a shootout between police and a suspect.
One officer told Maynes he was still picking up glass from his shattered car windows. "He said, 'The guy was shooting at us, and there were a lot of shots fired.'"
The explosion also rocked the home of Henry McFarland, who has lived in Bluemont for more than 30 years. When it subsided, he walked outside and saw flames leaping from the house and a plume of smoke stretching into the sky, he said.
But by Tuesday, the area was “as calm and peaceful as it typically is.”
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Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Virginia home explodes after suspect fires flare gun during search