A bomb threat made to the Harford County Courthouse Monday morning is under investigation by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.
Courthouse staff and visitors were evacuated from the courthouse on Main Street in downtown Bel Air for nearly three hours as the Sheriff’s Office scanned the building for chemical or incendiary explosives, the Sheriff’s Office said.
No arrests had been made as of early Tuesday afternoon, according to Cristie Kahler, director of media and public relations for the Sheriff’s Office.
“We received a call at 10:15 and the courthouse evacuation was complete by 10:45,” Kahler said.
According to the Sheriff’s Office post Monday on its Facebook page: “We are currently investigating a third party phone call, that alerted law enforcement to the possibility of a bomb coming into the Harford County Circuit Courthouse today. Out of an abundance of caution the courthouse has been evacuated, allowing us to secure the the building and conduct a through investigation. The Harford County Sheriff's Office will update you when the building reopens to the public.”
The building remained evacuated until approximately 1:30 p.m., at which point people were allowed to return. Chief Administrative Judge Angela Eaves, one of those evacuated, said everyone entering the building would have to go through security, including the metal detectors.
Police dogs and Hazmat thoroughly searched the building, which was deemed safe for people to re-enter, according to Kahler.
“We conducted a thorough check for any explosives, chemical or incendiary,” Kahler said.
Eaves said threats such as the one Monday cause disruptions to activities.
“If people are in the middle of cases, obviously those cases don’t get finished. And other cases waiting, those folks continue waiting,” she said.
About a half hour before the courthouse was reopened, Eaves said it was likely they’ll be able to finish what was started prior to the evacuation, but the rest of the day would probably have to be postponed.
Members of the jury pool called for duty Monday also would have to return the building to finish the day, Eaves said.
“We know it’s certainly not their expectation because it’s not ours; it means we can’t excuse them yet either,” she said.
Police cars from various agencies blocked off Courtland and Office streets, which run alongside the courthouse. The building is also bordered by South Main and South Bond streets, with its main entrances at Office and Courtland streets.
Officers from Bel Air Police Department stood outside the building’s main entrances. People who had left the building stood some distance away.
During the evacuation, three units arrived from the Harford County Hazardous Materials Response Team. They parked on the Bond Street side of the building, which was closed between Pennsylvania Avenue and Churchville Road.
Kahler confirmed the Hazmat team was checking for chemical substances, but declined to elaborate further.
The Hazmat vehicles departed around the time the evacuation ended.
Some of those evacuated stood or sat along the front of the Sheriff’s Office headquarters building, across Bond Street from the courthouse.
Beckie Privette, of Havre de Grace, was in the courthouse when she was told to evacuate.
“It’s alarming,” Privette said.
Kevin Komorowski, of Abingdon, had reported for jury duty Monday.
“I tend to think it’s probably some kid being an idiot,” he said.
Stacey Smith, who has worked at the courthouse for 14 years, was more concerned about standing outside in a group.
“I think of all of us outside in one area, someone could take us out that way,” Smith said. “It’s scary that people are capable of that.”
said nowadays it’s scary when any such threat is made.
Patty Nichols, who has worked at the courthouse for two years, said, “People are crazy and people really can put a bomb somewhere and who would know?”
Kahler, referring to a recent series of bombings in Austin, Texas, said, “While what is happening in Texas brings all communities to a heightened awareness, it doesn’t change the response of the Sheriff’s Office that a thorough investigation of any and all threats of violence against the community, a building or an individual,” Kahler, of the Sheriff’s Office, said. The latest bombing occurred Tuesday morning when a package believed to be bound for Austin exploded eat a FedEx facility about an hour south of the city, officials said.
“When there is a cluster of events or even an isolated one, we will stop and look at the events to see if we can learn anything from them,” Kahler said.
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Kahler said a person reported to police that they knew someone who was coming to court Monday “and believed they may be bringing a bomb into the building,” Kahler said.
She said the Sheriff’s Office appreciates the public’s vigilance in letting law enforcement know when there may be a threat.
“Even though it’s a third-party threat, we still investigate to ensure the safety of all citizens,” Kahler said.
Maj. Jack Simpson, of the Sheriff’s Office, said it had been about four years since a bomb threat involved the circuit courthouse.
“We sure live in a different time now. You have to be aware of your surroundings and what can happen,” Judge Eaves, who formerly lived in Texas, said. “People probably do make more of a connection to [the incidents in Texas] because of this today.”
The origin of the call and specifics of the threat continue to be under investigation by the Harford County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigations Division, Kahler said shortly before 2 p.m. Monday.