MOORE COUNTY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — An entire county is in the dark while authorities investigate who damaged two Duke Energy substations in Moore County this past weekend.
Federal, state, and local agencies have not ruled out domestic terrorism as a possible motive, as crews work around the clock to repair equipment damaged when someone shot the power structures, causing the blackouts.
Schools and businesses are closed. Traffic lights are also out countywide. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says this was a criminal attack.
“Investigators are leaving no stone unturned as to what this is. They are looking at every motivation that could possibly occur here, and they want to find the perpetrators,” Governor Cooper said.
As temperatures drop, residents are using generators to power their homes or looking for a place outside the area until at least Thursday. Officials say the power could be back by that time.
Sandhills community resident Lauren Mathers says she is staying with a friend to wait out the repairs.
“A lot of people did have to leave those who could, but a lot of people can’t,” Mathers said. “A lot of people do not have the means. Those people are suffering, and this is devastating to our community. This is going to be devastating to our economy.”
Mathers, the executive director of Sandhills Pride, was inside the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines Saturday night for an adult drag show when the lights went out around 7 p.m.
“I don’t think it benefits anyone to be speculating until facts are out,” Mathers said. “That being said, it’s an amazing timing coincidence. So, I hope that everyone does a thorough job of investigating this.”
The show, Downtown Divas, sold tickets to drawing a crowd of more than 300 people for a sold-out show. Mathers says her organization and allies supporting the drag show dealt with backlash, threats, and hateful comments from some community members.
“They were saying things like we should be lynched, we should be castrated, we should be imprisoned, saying they know what to do with us,” Mathers said.” They started hitting everybody our organization, the theater, our sponsors. The phone was ringing off the hook to the point that they had to turn their phones off, in some cases, for several days. This continued (and) some of the hate speech was really alarming.”
Mathers says the group filed a protest permit for outside the theater.
“I want to give kudos to the police and fire department. They had the street blocked off. They had designated areas designated for the protesters so they could be present,” Mathers said.
The show continued even in the dark, and Mathers says although the hate was loud, their love was even louder.
“I’ve received so many emails, I have received so many messages and texts and Facebook messages that just say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing this,” Mathers said. “Thank you for showing diversity, thank you for supporting, and thank you for not backing down in the face of hate. But it was very, very difficult.”
When asked whether a group intentionally shot up the substations to stop the drag show, Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields says he could not rule it out Sunday afternoon. In a press conference Monday, he was asked to clarify what intentional meant in this case.
“The individual that done the damage knew what they were doing and caused the damage and caused the outage that they did,” Sheriff Fields said.
The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, State Bureau of Investigation, and Moore County Sheriff’s Office are working together to find the suspect or suspects. Authorities would not comment on the type of firearms used to shoot up the substations.
“What happened here Saturday night was a criminal attack,” Cooper said. “Federal, state and local authorities are actively working to bring those responsible to justice.”
Power could stay out until Thursday. The Red Cross operates an emergency shelter at Moore County Sports Complex at 155 Hillcrest Park Lane in Carthage. Mathers says she is encouraged to see how residents are helping each other in their time of need.
“There are shelters open, there’s a curfew in place, but what I’m seeing on an individual basis is people are taking care of each other,” Mathers said. “Like if one person has a generator, they’re running extension cords to their neighbor cell, so that person has power.”
The Moore County Sheriff’s Office is running a tip line with federal and state authorities. They ask anyone who may know who shot up the substations to call 910-947-4444. Duke Energy also committed to spend at least $100,000 to help impacted residents.