A suspicious package mistakenly identified as a bomb prompted New Haven police to close off a portion of College Street between Crown and Chapel streets and evacuate nearby residents Friday morning.
At 8:30 a.m. Friday, police received a 911 call reporting a suspicious package in the alleyway next to the Palace Theater and directly across from the Shubert Theater, New Haven Police spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said. By 11:30 a.m., officials had determined that the device was not a bomb, and reopened the street.
“It turns out that the item that they were looking at was a theatrical prop, so, much ado about nothing,” Winchester said.
The initial police responders found the device in a box outside a dumpster in the alley, Winchester said. Upon inspection, the head of the emergency services unit determined the device “looked authentic.”
As a precaution, police officers closed streets around the Palace during the subsequent investigation, and evacuated some of the surrounding buildings, including the apartment complex at 271 Crown Street that includes the Alpha Epsilon Pi house.
Jesse Pizarro ’06, a resident of the AEPi house, returned from morning classes to see his friends standing in the rain.
“I met my roommates. They were all in their pajamas — they had all been kicked out,” Pizarro said.
Rob Spiro ’06, the former president of AEPi, said firefighters entered the house at about 9 a.m.
“I was already awake; I walked in and saw them and they said I needed to wake everyone up, because there was a bomb,” Spiro said.
Kai Hasson ’06, another of Pizarro’s roommates, said he was asleep when a firefighter entered his room and ordered him to evacuate. Police officers told him to get at least a block away from his apartment for his own safety, Hasson said.
“It was the best alarm clock I’ve ever had,” he said.
Although the streets were cordoned off, residents of the Taft Apartments, located next to the Shubert, were not required to evacuate, and students in Bingham, the nearest Yale building to the bomb, were not notified of the threat. Several residents of the evacuated buildings sought refuge in the Taft lobby while they waited for further information. Others, including Pizarro and his roommates, retreated to Starbucks.
By 10:15 a.m., traffic around the corner of College and Chapel slowed as four police cars and several other emergency vehicles reinforced the yellow emergency tape across the southbound College Street branch of the intersection. Police officers directed pedestrians away from the scene as firemen clustered around the front of the Palace Theater.
The fire department’s emergency team eventually determined the device was a theater prop, presumably left near the dumpster to be hauled away as trash. Police dispersed shortly thereafter, and by 11:30 a.m., traffic had returned to normal.
Winchester said the police department’s actions in the case were justified based on information available at the time.
“They determined it looked like an authentic explosive device, and that’s how they proceeded,” she said.
The incident joins several bomb scares in recent memory. Similar events in Beinecke Plaza and the Yale Law School last year led police to close both locations for several hours, before determining that there was no real threat. Police have been more concerned about suspicious devices since a pipe bomb exploded in the law school May 21, 2003, causing minor damage.