Dalton residents remain in shock over explosion

DALTON --- Barbara Russell's voice almost drops to a whisper as she tries to describe the deadly blast that interrupted her breakfast the other day.


"It was the loudest noise I've ever heard," she says, shaking her head. "You really can't believe it. It really hasn't sunk in yet."

The same sentiment kept coming up Sunday at the first town gathering since 78-year-old Lloyd Cantrell died when he bombed a law office that represented his son in a bitter family land dispute. The Friday morning blast killed Mr. Cantrell and injured four others at the law firm -- and left residents struggling to reconcile how it could happen in their blue-collar town of 30,000.

"We're all trying to figure this out," says Steve Williams, a senior partner at the firm that was bombed. "It will be a long time before folks come to grips with this. We're just a little town in the Deep South."

Mr. Cantrell had been embroiled in a dispute with his son, Bruce, since 2006.

Bruce Cantrell had grown fearful of the father and hired a lawyer at McCamy, Phillips, Tuggle & Fordham to file a lawsuit to keep his dad off the property. The 2006 complaint claimed the elder man stole tools, kicked in a door and threatened to kill himself. Mr. Cantrell had given the property to his son.

The Associated Press has been unable to reach Bruce Cantrell for comment.

On Friday, police were called to a disturbance at the firm, housed in a two-story, Colonial-style home. An officer saw a man get out of a sport utility vehicle and run behind the building. Seconds later, an explosion tore into the office.

Four were injured, including attorney Jim Phillips, who was described as a longtime friend of Mr. Cantrell. Mr. Phillips is hospitalized with burns to one-third of his body. He was in critical condition Saturday, and officials didn't immediately return a call Sunday seeking comment on his condition.

The law firm, which has helped produce a generation of local judges and community leaders, was one of the town's "oldest and most important law firms," says Dalton Mayor David Pennington. The city has offered the firm temporary space at city hall, and the firm's lawyers say they're confident they will soon rebuild.

"I will not be run off," says Mr. Williams, the firm's partner. "I'm here for the duration." He and other residents quietly gathered at Dalton City Hall, talking in hushed tones about what happened -- and what could have happened.

Kermit McManus, Dalton's district attorney, predicts it could take years for the town to realize the enormity of the attack.

"It's more devastating than we know," he says. "I think it will change the way people think and it's going to change the way people do business."

His voice trails off.

"We don't think in those terms," he says. "Now we will."