Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo The state police bomb squad, including Sgt. Robert Lucas in protective gear, responds to a suspicious package Thursday afternoon on Langdon Street in Montpelier. Sections of downtown were closed to pedestrian and vehicle traffic for several hours after the package was found.
MONTPELIER — It was all over a box of books.
The Vermont State Police bomb squad was called into action Thursday afternoon, responding to a suspicious package next to TD Bank at the corner of Langdon and Main streets in Montpelier.
Montpelier Police Chief Anthony Facos said his station received a call about the package around 2:42 p.m. From there, Facos said, police investigated the sealed cardboard box and contacted state police for assistance.
As a precaution, police evacuated businesses and blocked off an area from Main to School streets. No one was allowed into or out of the affected area. The state police bomb squad was called in.
“We just decided to err on the side of caution,” Facos said, adding this was the first time since he became chief in 2007 that he has needed to use the state’s bomb squad.
At the Statehouse, lawmakers and staffers were aware of the situation, but they were not instructed to stay in the building. Several people walked down to the main intersection to join the growing crowd. Just a few hours earlier, Gov. Peter Shumlin and other dignitaries had honored former Gov. Phil Hoff.
Several residents and people who happened to be in town gathered around the bomb squad truck and robot to see what all the fuss was about.
One street over, along State Street, it was business as usual, with people eating at outdoor tables and shopping.
The incident, which played out over the next few hours, drew a large crowd to the downtown, even though police had asked that bystanders stay away until an all-clear could be given. The crowd grew as time went on.
As state offices let out, Montpelier streets became clogged due to the closed streets and intersection. Significant delays were reported.
Around 5:30 p.m., a member of the state police in full protective gear, including body armor, X-rayed the package to check its contents. At that time, state police concluded that no explosive device seemed to be inside. However, state police Capt. Dan Troidl said that since the bomb squad was already in place, it made sense to open the box using the robot, which is designed to handle these delicate situations.
The robot was loaded with a shotgun shell and some water and was driven remotely to the cardboard box, as bystanders, including City Manager William Fraser, former City Council member Angela Timpone and Washington County Sen. Anthony Pollina, looked on. Onlookers watched as the robot edged slowly over to the box, which was about 2 feet by 2 feet in size.
A state police trooper yelled out “fire in the hole” several times, and, seconds later, the sound of a gunshot rang out as the robot “remotely opened” the box with a blast, according to state police. Troidl said the robot shot water at the box at high velocity to open it and examine the package.
The wheeled robot then picked apart the box, lifting it as several booklets fell out. The yellow booklets were titled “The Vermont Parents’ Home Companion.”
Given the recent bombings in Boston, where attackers set off two pressure cooker bombs during the Boston Marathon, it would make sense for authorities to be more suspicious than usual of random boxes left in public. But Troidl said the events in Boston made little difference with regard to how they proceeded Thursday.
“We would have been down here anyway, based on the circumstances. We’ve been vigilant since 9/11, and I don’t know that any instance can raise that any higher,” he said.
Scott Kerner, one of the owners of Three Penny Taproom, which had patrons stuck inside throughout the incident, said he was grateful for the police presence. “In this day and age, I’m grateful that we look at every suspicious package this carefully.”
After all the commotion was over, state police gave several children who had gathered around the robot a brief demonstration on how it works.
Facos said police do not know who left the package outside the bank, and the incident remains under investigation.
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