Police say James Yoo, man whose Virginia home exploded, is presumed dead

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Virginia man whose house in suburban Washington, D.C., blew up had a history of making unsubstantiated complaints that he had been defrauded, and just days before the explosion he claimed on social media that his neighbors were spies.

James Yoo is presumed dead after the Arlington residence went up in a fireball as police officers tried to serve a search warrant, authorities said Tuesday.

Police were called to the North Burlington Street home Monday after Yoo allegedly shot a flare gun at the property, officials said.

He did not respond to requests to come outside, prompting officers to fire irritants into the residence, police said.

James Yoo.
James Yoo.via LinkedIn

The home would later explode, killing the man inside, Arlington County Police Chief Andy Penn said.

“Based on the preliminary investigation of the incident, we believe the resident of the home, James Yoo, 56, of Arlington, is the involved suspect,” Penn said.

“The suspect was inside the residence at the time of the explosion, and he is presumed, at this point, to be deceased. Human remains have been located at the scene.”

The cause of the explosion is still unknown and under investigation.

Previous contact with law enforcement

Yoo was no stranger to federal authorities.

He “previously communicated with the FBI via phone calls, online tips and letters over a number of years,” said Dave Sundberg, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office. 

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

Penn, the Arlington County police chief, said investigators also are aware of “concerning social media posts allegedly made by the suspect.”

In his social media writings, Yoo called himself an independent and posted ranting hashtags calling for defunding the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency.

In a LinkedIn post Friday, Yoo appeared to accuse his neighbors of being spies.

His LinkedIn and YouTube pages have been deleted.

Clothes and trash strewn outside

Neighbors on North Burlington Street described Yoo as a recluse who had trashed his front yard and tossed clothes out the window hours before Monday’s explosion.

“We had noticed some weird stuff. In the front lawn, trash was thrown everywhere, and clothes had been thrown out the second-story window, and he had never done that before,” said Tracy Mitchell, 57, who lives across the street. “The house was always locked down tight, with no-trespassing signs everywhere. So just seeing that debris outside was weird.”

Neighbor Elizabeth Johnston also said the state of Yoo’s property raised alarms.

Officials are investigating the circumstances surrounding a massive explosion that destroyed a duplex and shook a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.  (AP Photo/Emily Saxon)
Flames rise after a house explosion in Arlington, Va., on Monday.Emily Saxon / AP

“Because his house is usually very neat and clean, always perfectly mowed, and not even a leaf on the ground in fall, and suddenly there was trash everywhere, clothes, things on his roof,” Johnston said. “And it was just very unusual. And before we even got the chance to make a welfare check call, there were flares going up and the police were already there.”

Before Monday’s blast, the home stood out because of the aluminum foil covering windows and because its resident made no efforts to meet neighbors, Mitchell said.

“No one did [meet him]. He was too creepy. He put foil over the windows, blocked everything and never came out of the house,” she told NBC News, estimating the man had lived there for at least five years.

“Over the years he lived there, I might have seen him three or four times, and [he] always had a backpack,” she said.

Home was part of a bitter divorce

The home was briefly on the market in 2021, real estate records showed.

After James and Stephanie Yoo divorced, local Realtor Daniel Boris said he was retained to sell the couple’s two Northern Virginia properties, in Arlington and McLean.

But a “hostile” and “confrontational” James Yoo was still living in the Arlington home and unwilling to let anyone inside, forcing prospective buyers to bid sight unseen, Boris said.

“He was hostile to the whole thing. He was not down with any of that,” Boris recalled Tuesday, noting that the couple’s other property did sell.

The property did not sell after 161 days on the market and the sale was called off.

His ex-wife did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Shattered sense of safety and security

While the cause of the explosion is still under investigation, the blast appears to have permanently shaken some neighbors.

“Makes you feel unsafe. This is a pretty quiet neighborhood, usually,” Kathleen Boyle said. “I, and we, actually, were fortunate the fire department is right there on the corner. So they came right away. But it does make you, like, what the heck is going on, makes you feel a little unsafe, because normally it’s a safe neighborhood.”

Neighbor Davin Mitchell said he was grateful no one else appears to have been injured.

“Life’s precious. You never know,” Mitchell said. “The people that live next door could not have made it out. And it could be a really bad day for them. But they made it out. So that’s why I say life is precious. If they would have been in there, they would have never survived.”

Tom Costello reported from Arlington and David K. Li from New York City.