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Gov. Hochul visited the scene of a car explosion at the U.S./Canada border in Niagara Falls (Photo by Mike Groll/ Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul)
Gov. Hochul visited the scene of a car explosion at the U.S./Canada border in Niagara Falls (Photo by Mike Groll/ Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul)

Hochul on Rainbow Bridge incident: 'No indication of a terrorist attack'; NFPD now investigating

Submitted + UPDATED

Wed, Nov 22nd 2023 09:20 pm

Earlier today, Gov. Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on the Rainbow Bridge incident in Niagara Falls. She said, in part:

“I just returned from the scene of a horrific accident that led to a high-level anxiety all the way from Western New York to Albany to Washington. But before I describe the details, I want to be very clear to Americans and New Yorkers: At this time, there is no indication of a terrorist attack. Let me repeat that: At this time, there is no indication of a terrorist involved attack here at the Rainbow Bridge in Western New York. At 11:27 this morning, a car going at a very high rate of speed crashed into a median at Niagara Street just minutes from here. It's in the City of Niagara Falls, near one of the border crossings into Canada, the Rainbow Bridge.

“There are four border crossings here in Western New York. This is one of the busiest crossings, not just in Western New York but along the entire U.S.-Canadian border. And it happens on the busiest travel day of the year. So naturally, in a time of heightened alert, everyone’s springing into action. It crashed into a Customs and Border Patrol booth, and the car and the booth immediately exploded. Burst into flames. I saw the video of an airborne vehicle that was absolutely surreal. You actually had to look at it and say, ‘Was this generated by AI?’ Because it was so surreal to see. How high in the air this vehicle went, and then the crash, and the explosion, and the fire. That video will be released shortly.

“As I said, we're not aware of any threats to this area. But, I state the caveat that the investigation is ongoing. If you can imagine, this vehicle basically incinerated. Nothing is left but the engine. The pieces are scattered over 13, 14 booths. So, it is a large scene and it's going to take a lot of time for our federal law enforcement partners who are with me here today … to be able to piece together the real story to identify the make of the car. Obviously, there is not a license plate.

“I've been briefed by law enforcement for the last hour. New York State Police, Col. Andy Crow, Col. Allen and other law enforcement officials. I've been joined by Aaron Bowker, who's the special agent in charge of the Customs and Border Patrol. I was also briefed by the SAC from the FBI. Also was on the phone with Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, the FBI Director Christopher Wray has reached out. The White House has reached out. My staff has been in communication with all of them. I spoke with Sen. Schumer, Sen. Gillibrand, Congressman Higgins, local law enforcement, as well as local elected officials, because the world is watching to find out what happened here.

“And again, at a time when there's such high anxiety, stress levels are already high. And we've been on heightened alert since Oct. 7. That's why it's so important for me to stand here and tell the world based on what we know at this moment, and again, anything can change, there is no sign of terrorist activity with respect to this crash.

“We've identified that this is a local individual, a Western New Yorker. Two individuals died in the vehicle. The border patrol individual working in the booth was injured. The booth literally protected that individual. They went to the hospital with minor injuries and have been released.

“There is also, again, the busiest travel day of the year, there is a major disruption in, first of all, our cross-border travel. Right now, the Rainbow Bridge will remain closed while law enforcement continues the investigation. Again, this is a large, widely scattered scene, and we're trying to identify all the elements to make sure that there is no unforeseen situations that we need to address before we can open again to the public.

“We're going to make sure the public is safe before they go back on the Rainbow Bridge. Also making sure the structural integrity of the booths. Also, very important, our state DOT will be involved in that as well. …

“There's been a lot of people trying to get across. I appreciate that. … For those traveling by train, unfortunately Amtrak has temporarily suspended its cross-border service between New York state and Canada. And the Buffalo Airport, despite early reports, the Buffalo Airport was never closed and everything is normal. Domestic flights are still active. There has been no cessation in service there.

“What I want to do at this time is extend my extreme gratitude to all of our partners. Customs and Border Patrol, Homeland Security, FBI, our State Police, local sheriffs from Niagara County, Erie County, all stepped up to assist in trying to identify what exactly transpired here, beginning at 11:27 a.m. this morning. They gave up their time from their families. They showed up. They reminded us that there are people who put on a uniform every single day, put themselves in harm’s way. The people out there on that bridge in the immediate aftermath of what happened – unknown, the source, the cause of this explosion – were out there doing their jobs. So, I want to pause to give them just the gratitude of a governor and 20 million New Yorkers who sleep better at night because of their willingness to do this. They run toward danger. They should be with their families today, but they will not be. 

“This investigation will go on for a number of days. And that's why we will not have any further answers at this time as to the individuals involved, the deceased, any motivation, and there's a lot of unanswered questions. But at this time, we just need to dial down the temperature right now.

“And that's what I plan to do as governor – let everybody know all is well. We're investigating, more information could arise, but based on the preliminary investigation, no sign of terrorist involvement in the horrific explosion that occurred here in Western New York.”

Law Enforcement Statements

Following Hochul’s press conference, the FBI’s Buffalo field office released this statement:

“FBI Buffalo has concluded our investigation at the scene of the Rainbow Bridge incident. A search of the scene revealed no explosive materials, and no terrorism nexus was identified. The matter has been turned over to the Niagara Falls Police Department as a traffic investigation.

“The FBI thanks our local, state and federal law enforcement partners for their assistance, and we remain committed in our mission to keeping the public safe.”

Erie County Sheriff John C. Garcia reported that, “following an extensive multiagency investigation, the incident at the Rainbow Bridge was not related to terrorism and is in fact a very unfortunate fatal car accident. The exact cause of the incident is still currently under investigation.”

On Thursday morning, City of Niagara Falls Police Department Superintendent John Faso stated, “Yesterday at 11:32 a.m., the Niagara Falls Police Department responded to an incident at the Rainbow Bridge located at 1 Niagara St., Niagara Falls. As events unfolded, an incredible response from local, state and federal law enforcement commenced. After a thorough preliminary investigation by all agencies involved, it was determined that this was not a terrorist event.

“I want to take this opportunity to personally thank everyone of our law enforcement partners for your exemplary response to this tragic incident. I also want to thank our local business partners, including the Seneca Niagara Casino, for your assistance.

“At this time, the incident has been taken over by the Niagara Falls Police Department’s crash management unit. Due to the complexity of the incident, the investigation will take some time to complete.

“At this time, the identity of those involved is pending positive identification and notification to next of kin.”

Bridge Update

On Thursday morning, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission provided this statement: "The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission can confirm that normal operations have resumed at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and Whirlpool Bridge and both spans are now open. Currently, the Rainbow Bridge remains closed to traffic and pedestrians.

“The Commission’s condolences and sympathy go out to the individuals and family members of those involved in yesterday’s tragic accident.

“Updates on the operational status of the Rainbow Bridge will be provided as available.”


First Reports

On Wednesday afternoon, the City of Niagara Falls announced, “The Rainbow Bridge is closed until further notice. There has been an incident involving a vehicle coming into the United States. Federal authorities are currently investigating the situation.”

Shortly after that Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh, Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti and Director of Emergency Management Jonathan Schultz released a joint statement that read, “Niagara County officials are at the Rainbow Bridge, along with multiple state and local agencies, with appropriate resources to support the investigation of today’s car explosion. This is a federal incident and the investigation will be led by the federal government. As such, we will not be making any additional public comments, as we will defer to lead investigators so there is a single point of communication to the public and media.” 

New York State Sen. Rob Ortt added, “My office is currently monitoring the incident that occurred this morning at the Rainbow Bridge border crossing, and I have been in communication with Gov. Hochul’s office, Congressman Higgins’ office, our Niagara County sheriff and other local electeds. At this moment, our thoughts and concerns are with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, Canadian Border Service agents, members of law enforcement, and their families.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “I have been briefed on the situation that occurred at the Rainbow Bridge in Buffalo. At my direction, the New York State Police is actively working with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor all points of entry to New York. I am traveling to Buffalo to meet with law enforcement and emergency responders and will update New Yorkers when more information becomes available.”


UPDATE No. 1: At 2:13 p.m., the City of Niagara Falls announced, “There has been an explosion involving a vehicle on the Rainbow Bridge. The Rainbow Bridge, along with the Peace Bridge, Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and Whirlpool Bridge, have been closed per Customs and Border Patrol until further notice. Federal agencies are currently leading the investigation.”


UPDATE No. 2: At her press conference after 5 p.m., Gov. Kathy Hochul said the Peace Bridge, Lewiston-Queenston and the Whirlpool bridges reopened. She also noted there is no current evidence to suggest the explosion was a terrorist act.


State Police actively working with FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor all points of entry to New York; governor meeting with law enforcement and emergency responders

Gov. Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on bridge closures on the U.S.-Canadian border following an incident on Rainbow Bridge. The governor also announced earlier today that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force will be monitoring all points of entry to New York.

“I have been briefed on the situation that occurred at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls,” Hochul said. “At my direction, the New York State Police is actively working with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor all points of entry to New York. I am traveling to Buffalo to meet with law enforcement and emergency responders and will update New Yorkers when more information becomes available.”

New York State Department of Transportation

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) can confirm that the Rainbow Bridge and Peace Bridge are closed, as are the Lewiston-Queenston and the Whirlpool Bridge, at the direction of federal authorities. Remaining international crossings are on heightened alert status but are open. NYSDOT is in the process of closing Interstate 190 at Upper Mountain Road in Niagara County and is assisting local partners in managing traffic impacts. Variable message signs in the region are alerting motorists of the bridge closures.

Beyond Western New York, NYSDOT and the Thruway Authority are coordinating on variable message signs to warn westbound travelers that the border crossings to Canada in the Buffalo-Niagara area are closed.

Thruway Authority

The following exit ramp is closed on the New York State Thruway system:

√ I-190 – Niagara Thruway northbound Exit 9 (Fort Erie Canada – Porter Avenue – Peace Bridge) to Peace Bridge

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority

In response to the incident that is unfolding at the Rainbow Bridge, the NFTA is increasing security systemwide. Cars and passengers coming into the Buffalo and Niagara Falls airports will undergo increased security checks, explosive detection, and increased screenings. The Buffalo and Niagara Falls airports and the Metro system remain fully operational. The NFTA advises travelers to give themselves extra time for these extra precautions.

New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services

The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services is on site, including staff from the Office of Emergency Services, and the division is prepared to support any resource requests. The division’s Office of Counter Terrorism has also been in contact with local counterterrorism and law enforcement partners statewide.

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