What the Police and the Gas Company Really Said

Before we get to the important part of this post, here are a few updates on the Cedar Avenue case, all provided by commenters on last night’s post:

  • A third victim injured in the blast, Abdiqani Adan, has died.
  • A video report shows Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) standing behind Fire Chief John Fruetel while the latter talks about a “gas leak”.
  • A commenter at CityPages blog reports that a dozen propane tanks were recently stolen from a hardware store on Franklin Avenue, a few blocks to the south of the destroyed building.
  • An interesting character in the case is apparently being airbrushed out of the picture. The following tidbit was originally published in the Strib, but has since been removed. However, it still exists as a mirror in various places, including this Somali jihad site. Before being cleansed, the Strib article said that Basim Sabri is “a property owner who has served as a liaison between authorities and the mosque adjoining the burned building”. But Mr. Sabri is also a convicted felon who served time in prison for bribery.
  • The property at 514 Cedar Avenue South is owned by Garad Nor and managed by Wadani Properties of Minneapolis. There is no apparent connection between Mr. Sabri and Mr. Nor or Wadani Properties.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The mainstream media have failed miserably in their duty to ask the hard questions and look more deeply into this case. Parroting what the fire chief said in his press conference does not qualify as “reporting”.

Which leaves the bloggers to do the job. One such blogger is Lee Stranahan, who lives (I think) in Minnesota, and has done some primary-source reporting on the Cedar Avenue explosion.

Mr. Stranahan has discovered some very interesting (and unreported) facts. For instance, Rebecca Virden, the spokeswoman for the gas company, was misquoted (and even had words put in her mouth) by the Strib, which then ignored her requests for corrections.

Also: the police who were on the scene at the time of the explosion were not called there because someone smelled gas or felt an “electric shock”.

I’ve reproduced the entire post below, but please see Lee Stranahan for the audio clips and the graphics. The audio is particularly important, because you can hear exactly what Rebecca Virden and the police have to say:

Untangling The Facts On The Explosion At The Minneapolis Apartment Building

I’ve been covering the story of the explosion and fire that took place in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on Minneapolis, Minnesota on New Year’s Day. There’s been a fair but of misinformation and confusion. This post is designed to clear up some of that with unfiltered facts from spokespeople for the gas company CenterPoint and the Minneapolis Police Department.

Please listen to the audio clips. There’s a LOT of detail in the clips. If you just read the post and skip the clips, you’ll miss a lot.

CenterPoint Is Definitive: No Gas Leak With Their System

Because of the conflicting statements, I contacted CenterPoint and spoke with Rebecca Virden. I’m glad I did because as you’ll see in a moment, there’s some very bad reporting going on with this story.

Our distribution system after we checked it — which runs up to the meter, which is the distribution system’s responsibility, to the meter — has no leak on it at all. We tested that system and it holds its test. We even took it apart and tested it to make sure because it had no leakage. It’s fully sound.

As for our system, we had no leakage, no leak history, no leak calls into our call centers prior to the incident before, during or after.

Here’s audio of the interview, which is longer than what I quoted. It seems very definitive. Listen to it.

Police Officer Was On Scene

CenterPoint says nobody reported smelling gas and significantly, the spokeswoman for CenterPoint says that they were told a police office was in the building just minutes prior to the explosion.

I followed up with the Minneapolis police, who confirmed an office was outside when the explosion happened. The officer was been called to the address on a robbery call.

Explosion “Isolated To One Unit”

Apparently, the explosion came from one unit on the second floor.

Fire Chief Still Blames “Gas Problem”

Despite all of this — the firm denial from CenterPoint, the police officer on scene minutes before, the fact that the explosion came from one unit — the fire chief is still sticking to the gas story.

As the Star-Tribune reports:

Fire Chief John Fruetel said Thursday afternoon that witness accounts of a natural gas smell and the explosion strongly suggest that gas was involved.

Fruetel added that the fire began either on the second floor or third floor.

But Fruetel also said that investigators are not certain what caused the fire and they may never be certain. He said four or five investigators have been on the site around the clock, looking for evidence such as debris patterns.

No mention of the police officer. Uncertainty about whether the explosion and fire began on the second or third floor. And the prediction that investigators may never know what happened.

That’s the stuff conspiracy theories are made of. I hate conspiracy theories, so I’m going to keep reporting on

The Star-Tribune’s Bad Reporting

Further complicating the story is some unconscionably awful reporting by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. This article attributes two quotes to Rebecca Virden.

I grappled over whether I should discuss this but after several people on Twitter told me that they’d heard that there was ‘no natural gas in the area’, I decided that I should speak out about what I knew.

The quote about ‘no natural gas in the area’ comes from the reporting of Paul Walsh at the Star-Tribune. I don’t know Mr. Walsh.

During the course of my interview with Rebecca Virden, she told that Mr. Walsh had misquoted her. She also told me that she’d contacted him to correct the misquote and other errors. Here’s the audio of Ms. Virden telling me about this.

[no natural gas in the area]

Except that’s not what Rebecca Virden said.

On an important story that’s sparked national interest, a spokesperson is misquoted about important details by Star-Tribune. Another quote is made up. Bad, bad, bad.

I left a message for the New Editor of the Star-Tribune. No response.

Previous posts about the explosion and fire in Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis, on New Year’s Day 2014:

2014   Jan   1   A Fiery Dawn in Minneapolis
        2   Enter DHS — It Was a Gas Leak
        2   The Gas Company Says: “No Way!”
        3   Body #2 Found at Cedar Avenue
        3   A Funny Smell in Minneapolis
        4   Applying Occam’s Razor

Hat tip: Frontinus.

24 thoughts on “What the Police and the Gas Company Really Said

    • IIRC, James Lileks worked there. I think it didn’t end well, but I’m surprised that a man of his sensibility ever managed to stay on as long as he did.


      Long before computers and such, back when he had a life, the Baron was a real Lileks fan. Somewhere in our stacks is a copy of one of his from the 90s:

      Notes of a Nervous Man

      It was he who introduced us to the nickname “The Strib”. However, I like yours better.

  1. He deserves a commendation. But in blue, blue Minneapolis commendations are only given for maintaining the “narrative”.

    Truth? Bah humbug.

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  3. The most benign interpretation of the fire chief’s statements would be that they are trying not to blow 🙂 a Homeland Security investigation. But given Homeland Security’s track record, that may too much for which to ask.

    • Didn’t mean to have the smiley face be crass. It’s possible that there may have been innocent loss of life.

      On the other hand, if none of us are innocent according to their doctrine, then we may eventually have to apply the same standard–eventually. I hope it never comes to that.

    • I agree, that’s the most benign interpretation. But there’s something fishy even there.

      Consider this: the federal authorities don’t mind busting a whole network of domestic terrorists in a very public fashion, provided that they’re not Islamic. Remember the Hutaree militia?

      If 514 Cedar Avenue was the center of an al-Shabaab network operating domestically, last week’s events would have provided a good opportunity to roll up the entire network. What better moment than the premature detonation of an explosive device?

      No, it doesn’t really make sense. If anyone in authority is really whispering such things “off the record”, I think they’re blowing smoke.

      The real reason for the stonewall was standing behind the fire chief at the press conference. The Muslim Brotherhood does NOT want these matters to be examined closely.

      • If so, this would probably mean that the order is coming from the highest levels in our government, i.e., the White House–the order to not report Muslim terrorist activities, within the U.S., to the U.S. public. If this is really the case, it is breathtaking.

        In order to please the Muslim Brotherhood.

        Breathtaking. This would be at least one step beyond the psychological defense mechanism known as “denial.” Because the defense mechanism is unconscious (although it may appear to be conscious).

        If so, the stated purpose of such policy would probably be to “not alarm the public.” They are so solicitious of our welfare.

  4. THANK you, as always, Baron, for the careful summary of the usual non-reporting by the local press as well as the usual quick minimizing/denial/redefinition of any possible connection to terrorism by the stalwart guardians of our nation. I do sincerely wish I could safely assume that the statements that come from these guardians are usually founded in reality, but the fact is that I and our fellow citizens really cannot. In any case, thank you so, so much.

    Happy New year, and tomorrow I can call my representative-critter on this issue.

  5. So what does the building owner’s representative tell his insurance company when he files his claim. I’m sure the insurance company would want to get its adjustors out there to see exactly how they will avoid paying the claim. Domestic terrorism or owner instigated arson. Those would be two ‘outs’ for the company Either way, I wouldn’t want to be him trying to collect on his policy, if indeed it was just simply a ‘gas leak’.

    • Who ordered the building knocked down on such short notice. Would like to know who insured the premises, and what their position will be on all this. I hope someone can fathom this, and let us know.

  6. Abdiqani Adan, 29, who did not live in the building, died from “complications of injuries” sustained in the Cedar Ave. fire. Most of the injured were caught by surprise, still in bed at the time of the explosion/fire. Abdiqani Adan was not a resident. Why was he there? Who is Abdiqani Adan? Here are two items that may/may not be related to his idenity:

    Quote from Staff Writers @ Africa News in Mogadishu (AFP) Sept 8, 2011

    A Somali soldier killed five people and wounded three others in the famine-struck Somali capital Thursday as starving women and children gathered for food aid handouts, witnesses said.
    “The soldier was arrested by the Somali police forces after the shooting,” said witness Ahmed Qumbe, who saw several dead bodies at the scene.
    All those who died were displaced people who had fled drought or famine in the surrounding countryside, witnesses said.
    “It was horrible, I heard gunshots as displaced people gathered for food distribution, several were killed and others injured,” said one, Abdiqani Adan.

    same report via AFP

    Then there is this from a website for an Arabic school in Norway(?). The age appears to be about right . . .:
    image of Abdiqani Adan provided at website with the following translated recommendation for the Arabic school:

    My name is Abdiqani Adan.
    I have attended Arabic school in two months.
    I am very pleased and have learned a lot in those two months.
    I recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn Arabic.
    It is a very good teacher who has a lot of knowledge in Arabic.

    Mitt navn er Abdiqani Adan.
    Jeg har gått på arabisk skole i 2 måneder.
    Jeg er veldig fornøyd og har lært masse i de to månedene.
    Jeg anbefaler dette kurset til alle som vil lære arabisk.
    Det er en veldig dyktig lærer som har mye kunnskap i arabisk .
    Hilsen Abdiqani

    Source: http://www.arabiskskole.no

  7. It seems to me that covering-up is a reflex behavior of the American administration, almost regardless of the issue. When did it start? When did the newspapers and journalists loose their integrity? Undoubtedly, the methods were fully developed during the after war hearings in the 40ies. Please, enlighten me.

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