Bomb scare closes downtown Summerville
The musical notes of Christmas had barely wafted away on the warm December breeze when flashing blue lights and sirens broke the peace of the night.
At approximately 6:30 p.m., on Dec. 22, a woman ran into the Summerville Fire Station to report a briefcase with wires sticking out of it that “might be a bomb” had been left on a bench in Hutchinson Square.
“I saw this bag with wires sticking out and I took my kids and went to the fire station and told them,” says Keisha Frazier. She says she thought the bag looked very suspicious.
“I didn't dig in the bag, but I saw those wires and something that looked like those beeper things they give you at Red Lobster.”
Was she scared? “Oh yeah!”
Police rapidly blocked all four intersections around Hutchinson Square in downtown Summerville, Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m., detouring traffic down Doty Avenue east and west, and down Cedar and Magnolia streets to East and West 2nd Street. They quietly herded the few strollers out of the cordoned off area and urged the curious to move on.
It was eerily quiet in the town square. Flashing lights marked the four corners and traffic slowly followed the directions of the officers.
A small group of law enforcement personnel gathered at the northwest corner of the park.
About 30 minutes into it, Lt. Ed Pumphrey of South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) arrived with his wife – a North Charleston police officer – having been out to dinner when the call came in.
Heads together, making occasional phone calls and taking turns with a single pair of binoculars, officials waited.
By 7:11 p.m., Norfolk Southern Railroad had stopped all trains in both directions.
The bomb squad from Charleston Police Department was on its way.
The Charleston Police Explosive Devices Team arrived at about 8:30 p.m.
All conferred, Pumphrey was helped into his protective gear by other bomb squad officers.
A ramp was set up out of the back of the CPD team's box truck. An antenna was placed on top of the truck. Slowly, down the ramp, came a robot, stopping and turning at the bottom.
Personnel were moved back behind the brick building on the corner. Police vehicles were moved out of the blast zone.
EMS removed its stretcher and medical gear from the ambulance to have at the ready.
Fire personnel readied a hose but didn't charge it with water.
In a perfectly cinematic moment, the robot slowly started forward, down the street, toward the briefcase. A collective breath seemed to be held in the quiet of the night.
About 10 minutes later, Pumphrey donned his headgear and face mask and, in a strange manifestation of a Jules Verne novel, began a slow waddle down the street to make a visual. The robot information had allowed bomb experts to determine the briefcase to be inert and now it was up to Pumphrey to corroborate that determination.
As Pumphrey continued down the street, another explosives expert donned a hard hat and flak vest and took an observation position at the corner of the brick building.
For all intents and purposes, Pumphrey was on his own in what must have been a long, silent and lonely walk toward the somewhat unknown.
From comments heard at the command center, Pumphrey has been an explosives expert for a long time and is very good at what he does.
He is, however, a pragmatist, promising a photo op “if I come back.”
He, too, determined the briefcase to be inert and, leaving it in situ, called the “all clear” for Summerville Police officers to examine it.
Gloved, Cpl. Dennis Henderson, accompanied by Deputy Chief of Police Major Frank A. Nigro, Jr., Detective Lt. Jeff Payton, Pfc. Jason Forsythe, Lt. Cassandra Williams and Captain Roger Pierce, examined the briefcase finally discovering what was inside.
Harmonicas, bronze and steel guitar strings, a black and orange 9-volt battery, and neck holders for the harmonics were nestled in the black Compaq bag. A musician's backup bag, probably left behind by a member of a group that had been making music earlier in the park.
All told, some 16 SPD officers, four or five command officers, two fire engines, nine fire personnel, one ambulance, one EMS supervisor vehicle, four EMS personnel, the CPD bomb squad and SLED personnel were finally cleared from the scene around 9:30 p.m.
Off duty SPD officers were called in to cover the rest of Summerville and the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office was requested to assist handling other calls during the duration of the event.
Fortunately for Summervillians, says Nigro, every SPD officer has received “some type of introductory training in how to handle a bomb threat and suspicious packages.”
As the last of the blue lights blinked off and official vehicles left, a peaceful silence settled over Hutchinson Square as the lights twinkled on the Christmas trees, the streets quiet again.
Monday morning a man walks in to the Summerville Police Department. He tells the front desk he's the owner of the briefcase.
He is mortified and upset that he caused such a ruckus.
He tells them he was ill that night and left right after the concert. It isn't until he sees the reports of the bomb scare all over Facebook that he puts two and two together and realizes he had left a bag on the bench and it is his bag that was thought to be a bomb.
He can't apologize enough.
The police are kind and understanding. Even they have those days.
And, after all, it's Christmas.