Two people killed in car blast at U.S.-Canada border bridge; no evidence of terror link, officials say

A vehicle burns at the Rainbow Bridge U.S. border crossing with Canada, in Niagara Falls, New York, Nov. 22, 2023.
A vehicle burns at the Rainbow Bridge U.S. border crossing with Canada, in Niagara Falls, New York, Nov. 22, 2023.

A vehicle explosion at Rainbow Bridge, a U.S.-Canada border crossing near Niagara Falls, killed two people on Wednesday afternoon, according to multiple law enforcement sources. The incident prompted the closure of four border crossings in the region, three of which later reopened. Rainbow Bridge remained shut down as investigators examined the scene.

The nationalities of the two fatalities are unknown, a senior law enforcement official told CBS News. The vehicle was reduced to ashes by the impact, leaving only its engine intact. Debris from the car was scattered across 13 to 14 border security booths, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a news conference. She also said that there was no evidence of terrorist involvement in the “horrific” explosion.

The direction of the vehicle was initially unclear, but a senior U.S. law enforcement official confirmed to CBS News that it was coming from the U.S. side and crashed into the customs station. U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a security camera footage that showed the car speeding and flying into the air.

A border patrol officer who was in the customs station sustained minor injuries and was hospitalized and discharged, Hochul said.

Preliminary federal government assessments and law enforcement sources suggested that the vehicle was traveling at a high speed when it hit a curb, causing it to break through a fence and a Customs and Border Protection inspection area, where it ignited and exploded. Eyewitnesses reported that the vehicle soared into the air when it hit the fence and then exploded when it landed, a law enforcement source told CBS News’ Pat Milton.

The motive of the crash is still undetermined, according to the preliminary assessments and law enforcement sources.

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Matthew Miraglia said at a Wednesday evening news conference that there was no indication of a terrorist threat from the incident. He declined to provide any information on the occupants of the car, saying that they were still notifying their family members. He also said that they had not found any derogatory information on the person they had identified.

U.S. Attorney Trini E. Ross said at the briefing that their initial assessment was that the incident was not terrorism-related, but they would continue to be vigilant.

Mike Guenther, a Canadian resident who was visiting New York, told NewsNation that he witnessed the car speeding towards the border crossing.

“He was flying, over 100 miles an hour. He swerved out in front of another car, hit the fence, went flying up into the air … and we saw the fireball, and that’s all we could see, there was just smoke everywhere,” he said.

Guenther said the car was heading from the U.S. to Canada.

Randie Wilson, a Niagara Falls tour guide, described the crash as “like a movie.” He said he was getting out of his car when he saw something airborne. “I thought it was an airplane, it looked like slow motion. And I said, ‘My God, it’s a car.’”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a speech to parliament that the Canadian government was in close contact with U.S. officials, and that they were implementing and considering additional measures at all border crossings across the country.

“We are taking this extraordinarily seriously,” Trudeau said.

Gov. Hochul said in an earlier statement that “the New York State Police is actively working with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to monitor all points of entry to New York,” adding that she was on her way to Buffalo to “meet with law enforcement and emergency responders.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, also said he had been briefed by the FBI. “Initial reports indicate the two people killed were in the car but nothing’s been determined on their identity or motive,” Schumer wrote on social media, adding that “law enforcement remains on heightened alert over Thanksgiving.”

In addition to Rainbow Bridge — a popular crossing for tourists, connecting Niagara Falls, New York, with Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada — three other bridges on the U.S.-Canadian border in the region were closed following the incident: The Peace Bridge, the Lewiston-Queenston and the Whirlpool Bridge.

Niagara Regional Police said later Wednesday that U.S. law enforcement officials were reopening the other three bridges to traffic, though the Rainbow Bridge remains closed during the ongoing investigation.

The Buffalo Niagara International Airport says it is “open and fully operational,” and additional “security measures” are in place until further notice. The FAA had said on its website that Buffalo airport was closed Wednesday afternoon to departing and arriving international flights.

U.S. travelers during one of the busiest travel periods of the year can expect to see an increase in law enforcement and canines patrolling the transportation system, the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement. The TSA said it is “operating at a heightened level of security as a result of world events and the current threat environment.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement, “The NYPD and our team have been closely monitoring the situation on the ground in Buffalo after an explosion at the Rainbow Bridge, and we’ve already sent NYPD officers upstate to support efforts on the ground. The NYPD and our partners have already enhanced security, and the city is on heightened alert due to the upcoming holiday, so the public will see increased security at locations across New York City.”

Toronto police also said they were stepping up security, tweeting: “Due to today’s incident at the Canada-US border, we will be increasing directed patrols of uniformed officers throughout the city. This is out of an abundance of caution and there are no known threats for the city of Toronto.”

Law enforcement personnel block off the entrance to the Rainbow Bridge border crossing, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The border crossing between the U.S. and Canada has been closed after a vehicle exploded at a checkpoint on a bridge near Niagara Falls. The FBI’s field office in Buffalo said in a statement that it was investigating the explosion on the Rainbow Bridge, which connects the two countries across the Niagara River. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)

An explosion at the Rainbow Bridge, a major tourist attraction that links Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, killed two people in a car on Wednesday, triggering a security alert and a closure of four bridges on the U.S.-Canadian border.

Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said she was heading to Buffalo to coordinate with law enforcement and emergency responders, after stating earlier that the New York State Police and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force were monitoring all entry points to the state.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said he had received a briefing from the FBI and posted on social media that the identities and motives of the two deceased were still under investigation. He also warned that law enforcement was on high alert for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Peace Bridge, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and the Whirlpool Bridge, which also connect the U.S. and Canada in the region, were shut down after the incident, but reopened later in the day, according to the Niagara Regional Police. The Rainbow Bridge remained closed for the ongoing probe.

The Buffalo Niagara International Airport announced that it was operating normally, with extra security measures in place until further notice. The FAA had previously reported that the airport was closed to international flights on Wednesday afternoon.

The Transportation Security Administration said in a statement that U.S. travelers could expect to see more law enforcement and canine units patrolling the transportation system during one of the busiest travel periods of the year. The TSA said it was working at a heightened level of security due to the global situation and the current threat environment.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he had sent NYPD officers to support the efforts on the ground in Buffalo, and that the NYPD and its partners had enhanced security in the city, which was on heightened alert for the holiday. He urged the public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

Toronto police also increased their security presence, tweeting that they were deploying more uniformed officers throughout the city as a precautionary measure. They said there were no known threats for Toronto following the incident at the border.