Downtown bomb threat disrupts commutes

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No caption. Photo by Colin Ross.

Jamie Kessler, a high school junior and prospective student from Key West, Fla., was walking back to her family’s parked car at City Hall on Church Street around 5:20 p.m. on Tuesday when she saw the area sealed off by police.

Kessler had come to visit campus just in time to see the three New Haven courthouses downtown evacuated because of a bomb threat Tuesday afternoon. Though the prospect of a bomb going off near her car was irritating, Kessler said, it did not curb her interest in the University.

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“Other than that things seem to be blowing up, the trip went fine,” she said.

A few moments later, police re-opened Church Street, letting the Kesslers drive away.

So ended the chaos that started just before 4 p.m., when someone called in a bomb threat to police. As New Haven police blocked off Church, Elm and Wall streets with yellow police tape, Yale, state and city police evacuated the buildings and sent in bomb-sniffing dogs to see whether the threat was real. Judicial and federal marshals were also on the scene. Around 5:40 p.m., police declared that they had found no suspicious objects in the courthouses and re-opened the area.

Tuesday’s threat is the latest in a string of threats that have shaken up the neighborhoods around campus in the past month. Three weeks ago, a threat prompted the evacuation of the Omni Hotel on Temple Street, and two anonymous calls placed a month ago caused two New Haven public schools to close temporarily.

New Haven Police spokesman Joe Avery said there is no indication at the moment that the threats are related, though he said an investigation into all the bomb threats is ongoing.

Still, one alderman, Greg Morehead of Ward 22, said he thinks threats are coming from the same source and that federal law enforcement agents should get involved in investigating the threats.

“This is not something that’s random,” he said.

At the height of the scare, at 4:30 p.m., traffic was backed up for blocks, and court hearings were disrupted. The jury deliberations for the federal corruption trial of Shelton, Conn., developer James Botti was disrupted.

Police talked with one woman who had come to New Haven Superior Court to get a judicial marshal to enforce a restraining order. They told her she would not be able to get one that day — the bomb threat obviously took precedence — but they assured her that if the man for whom she was seeking the order ever came near her again, she could call them to arrest him.

Six bystanders on the scene Tuesday, who were waiting for cars or buses in order to get home from the downtown area, said the bomb threat disrupted their commutes and abruptly ended their workdays a few hours early. Amina Connelly, who works at New Haven Superior Court on Church Street and was in the building when police arrived on the scene, was waiting outside with several others for her bus. Judicial marshals fanned out across the building to evacuate everyone as quickly as possible, she said.

“[The marshals] were calm but very firm,” she said. “They were very clear that we all had to get out of the building immediately.”

Downtown traffic cleared up by 6 p.m.

When contacted by the News on Tuesday evening, Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark, who represents the ward in which two of the three courthouses lie, was at a loss to explain how the incident occurred. She suggested the threat might have been prompted by “mischievous boys, or people who are crazy or they are angry, so they want to cause trouble.” Or, she said, the threat might have been prompted by Monday’s suicide bombings in Moscow. But, Clark added, that was all Tuesday’s commotion was: a threat, a false alarm.

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