Friday, May 7, 2010
Police: NH bus bomb scare not 'terrorist event'
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – A nine-hour bomb scare aboard a Maine-to-New York Greyhound bus ended peacefully Thursday night when the lone remaining passenger walked off it with his hands over his head. The other 16 passengers and the driver had left the bus safely hours earlier.
Portsmouth Police Chief David Ferland said the man was being questioned and the incident was not terrorism-related.
"We do not believe this to be a terrorist event," Ferland said at a late-night news conference during which he refused to answer questions. "We are considering this to be a localized event only."
No details about the passenger were immediately released, and the bus remained parked in downtown Portsmouth being examined by the FBI and a bomb squad. The man could be a foreign national, as agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were on the scene and there were reports an interpreter was needed to speak to him. Other federal agencies also responded, including the Department of Homeland Security.
The chief said more information would be released Friday.
The ordeal began at 11:17 a.m. with a 911 call about a man on a bus with a bomb, according to a police news release. Police evacuated buildings and streets and called the passengers out under the watch of a sharpshooter in an armored vehicle. One man refused to leave the bus and, after hours of negotiations, was taken into custody at 8:45 p.m., police said.
The man, wearing camouflage pants without a shirt, stepped off the bus with his hands high over his head. He then went to his knees before soon getting up and appearing to follow orders from police to walk away from the bus.
ICE spokesman Harold Ort could say only that there was an "ongoing issue" and that ICE was helping the investigation.
Throughout the day, police kept the curious at a distance and gave little information of what was happening on the bus. They said they established a way to communicate with the remaining passenger but wouldn't give details of that communication.
Passenger Danielle Everett, 20, of Poland, Maine, said she didn't see anything suspicious on the bus.
"It really wasn't any big deal," said Everett, who was met at the Portsmouth police station by her concerned father.
Family members of some other passengers who gathered at the police station said their relatives did not feel threatened aboard the bus; several said the passengers were confused and more frightened by the police response.
The 911 call came after the bus arrived in the seaside city of Portsmouth and was "based on someone's observations," police Capt. Mike Schwartz said. He had not heard of any threat being made.
The driver "received a report of suspicious activity" while making the routine stop on the trip from Bangor to New York City and followed his training to secure the bus and notify police, Greyhound spokeswoman Maureen Richmond said.
The driver parked the bus and got out, but the passengers remained on board for more than two hours while police surrounded it and cleared the area of people. When they did leave, it was very slowly, separated by several minutes each. They carried no purses or bags, and most held their hands aloft as they passed officers with their weapons drawn.
Passengers were screened individually when they got off the bus — much like an airport security check — and were taken to the police station to be interviewed. None appeared to be injured as they left the bus; Schwartz said one was taken to a hospital because of a medical condition.
Some passengers resumed their trip on a replacement bus just before 8 p.m., an hour after the original bus had been scheduled to arrive in New York. Others skipped the trip and were picked up. Greyhound said it would arrange to reunite passengers with their luggage and personal items they were forced to leave behind.
Joe Law, of Hudson, N.H., said he was walking toward his parked car when he saw the bus pull over. Law said the driver got off, ran to the back of the bus and pulled part of its back door down. He said the driver appeared to do something to disable the bus, then yelled, "get away from the bus," before running down the street.
During the standoff, the state police explosives disposal unit and the FBI were on the scene, and restrictions were put on air travel in the area, which kept television helicopters from flying overhead at closer than 3,000 feet.
The bus was parked with its flashers on, between a municipal parking garage and the Hilton Garden Inn. The hotel, garage and other area businesses had been evacuated, and streets were closed.
The police chief said he expected all buildings and streets to be reopened by Friday morning.
Associated Press reporters David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.