Arlington, Virginia house explosion: What happened and who is the suspect?

Blast suspect James Yoo is reported to have filed frivolous lawsuits against his ex-wife and younger sister.

Flames at a distance while passerby's look at a virginia house that exploded
The explosion was felt miles away from the house in Virginia in the southeastern United States [Emily Saxon/AP Photo]

On Monday night in Arlington County, in the US state of Virginia, at least 30 shots were fired inside a residence. Soon after police arrived to investigate, an explosion occurred and the house burst into flames.

The owner and primary suspect, James Yoo, was presumed killed.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the explosion that was felt miles from the site, while Yoo’s troubling relationships with people in his life have come to the fore through details of his own social media posts and lawsuits.

Here is what you need to know about the incident and James Yoo.

What happened and when?

  • At 4:45pm (21:45 GMT) on Monday, December 4, police officers responded after possible gunshots were heard fired in an Arlington duplex. A preliminary investigation indicated that a flare gun was fired approximately 30-40 times from inside the residence into the surrounding neighbourhood.
  • Police tried to speak to the occupant through a loudspeaker but received no response. When they attempted to enter the home with a search warrant, the suspect fired several rounds from what officers believed to be a firearm.
  • Authorities evacuated nearby residents, including those who lived in the attached unit of the duplex. It is unclear whether other people were present in the suspect’s house at the time the shots were fired.
  • Several hours later, at 8:25pm (01:25 GMT Tuesday) the suspect’s house exploded, shooting flames and debris that were felt miles away. Some of the debris found on the street included junk mail with the house address and name of the resident, James Yoo.
  • The Arlington Fire Department responded, and by around 10:30pm (03:30 GMT Tuesday), the fire was under control. No significant injuries were reported.
  • The exact cause of the fire is still unknown, according to Captain Nate Hiner, a spokesperson for the fire department.
  • Police said Yoo, 56, has been identified as the owner of the house and primary suspect, and that he was inside the residence at the time of the explosion. They said human remains were located at the scene and are presumed to be those of the suspect, even though police are still identifying them.

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Where did the explosion occur?

The house was in the 800 block of North Burlington Street in Arlington, Virginia, police said. The city is across the Potomac River from the US capital, Washington, DC.

Most homes in the north Arlington suburb – Bluemont, where the shooting occurred- are two attached units or “duplexes”.

What do we know about the suspect?

Although the suspect’s motivations are still under investigation, Yoo’s life is believed to have been rife with troubled relationships.

Yoo’s social media posts air grievances about various people in his life. Even on LinkedIn, he shared paranoid rants about a former co-worker and said his neighbour was a spy. His LinkedIn and YouTube accounts have now been deleted.

He also posted videos online of lawsuits that he filed, accusing people of stalking, threatening and harassing him.

Several suits Yoo filed between 2018 and 2022 – against his ex-wife, younger sister, a moving company and the New York Supreme Court – were dismissed as frivolous.

Yoo’s 2018 lawsuit against his then-wife, younger sister and a hospital, filed after he said he was committed against his will, alleged conspiracy and a deprivation of his rights, amongst other crimes.

The 163-page complaint included biographical details such as who all attended his wedding, and described how his then-wife drove him to Rochester General Hospital in November 2015 “against his will”, according to the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

Yoo denied having any thoughts of suicide or prior depression, while referencing a suicide note that he claimed he never wrote but hospital records said he left for his wife.

Over the years, he also made many attempts to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) through phone calls, letters and online tips, according to lawsuits and David Sundberg, the assistant director of the FBI’s Washington field office.

“I would characterise these communications as primarily complaints about alleged frauds he believed were perpetrated against him,” Sundberg said, according to AP. “The information contained therein and the nature of those communications did not lead to opening any FBI investigations.”

Yoo believed that a New York Times reporter he saw on television was someone who had claimed to be an FBI agent and came to his house in 2017. He claimed that the reporter threatened a harassment charge if Yoo made further attempts to communicate with a US attorney in western New York.

Is the area safe and was anyone hurt?

One dead body was found in the house, suspected to be Yoo’s, and around 10 to 12 surrounding homes were also affected by the blast.

Police officials at the site suffered minor injuries while gas service to the home was turned off. They also said there is no ongoing threat to the public and no other suspects.

What are people saying?

Residents of Arlington reported hearing the explosion.

Carla Rodriquez of South Arlington heard its sound despite living more than 3.2km (2 miles) away, AP reported. “I actually thought a plane exploded,” she said.

Another Arlington resident, Bob Maynes, reported feeling the tremble of the explosion.

“I was sitting in my living room watching television and the whole house shook,” he said, according to the AP. “It wasn’t an earthquake kind of tremor, but the whole house shook.”

Neighbours also told NBC News that Yoo’s house was in an alarming state before Monday’s explosion, with a trashed front yard and “no trespassing signs” everywhere. They said this was unlike the usually “very neat and clean” condition of the house.

“No one did [meet him]. He was too creepy. He put foil over the windows, blocked everything and never came out of the house,” neighbour Tracy Mitchell told NBC.

What’s next?

Several US authorities, including the White House, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), are monitoring developments and investigating the cause of the explosion.

Police have asked that anyone with photos or video of the area share them with investigators.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies