The Wallowa County Courthouse was evacuated Monday afternoon after a bomb threat was called in. KATY NESBITT - The Observer
Unfounded reports spur evacuations of courthouse facilities throughout Oregon
A wave of bomb threats rolled across Oregon Monday afternoon, with 28 county courthouse facilities including those in Wallowa, Union and Baker counties involved.
The Oregon State Police said calls were placed to courthouse facilities across the state beginning about 2:30 p.m. Twenty-two of the 28 locations reported evacuations while responding law enforcement personnel conducted area checks for any suspicious objects. The OSP said all the reports were unfounded. There were no explosions and no injuries.
In Wallowa County, downtown Enterprise was a scene of emergency vehicles and personnel after a bomb threat was received at the Wallowa County Courthouse.
Sandy Lathrop, administrative assistant to the county commissioners, received a call at 2:48 p.m. Monday.
“A man’s voice said that there was a bomb in the courthouse and we had a half hour to evacuate,” said Lathrop. “He said it wasn’t a bomb threat, it was a bomb promise.”
Lathrop called Paul Karvosky, the county’s emergency services manager, who in turn called the Enterprise police and fire departments as well as the sheriff’s office.
The courthouse was evacuated and shut down until 7 p.m. when four city officers “swept” the building.
Enterprise Chief of Police Wes Kilgore said normally that mean officers are “looking for bad guys,” but no one was found nor any suspicious packages.
Undersheriff Steve Rogers said a lot of issues came up later in the evening indicating it was a hoax — including the more than two-dozen statewide threats as well as similar ones in Washington last week and in Nebraska earlier this month.
Though nothing came of the threat, Rogers said, “You have to pay attention and play it safe.”
The coast clear, courthouse employees returned to work on schedule Tuesday morning.
Karvosky said the courthouse employees would be debriefed on Wednesday to go over the evacuation.
Union County’s bomb threat was reported at 2:40 p.m., according to the La Grande Police Department’s dispatch log. Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen, who led the operation to secure the Union County campus along K Avenue, said the caller told the county clerk’s office there were bombs planted in county offices and that they were set to go off in a short period of time.
Rasmussen said department heads were given the option of evacuating their offices as deputies searched for suspicious items. He said some chose to evacuate and others did not.
Workers also had the option of returning to work after the search was complete. Rasmussen said deputies were on scene until about 5 p.m.
One local resident, Becki Hamann, was critical Tuesday about the way the Union County Sheriff’s Office handled the bomb scare.
Hamann said she walked into the county clerk’s office in the Misener Building a short time after 3 p.m. and found it empty. She said she called out, then went to the planning office and assessor’s office and found it empty also. Hamann said she walked to the county commissioner’s offices and found them empty.
She said that at 3:11 p.m. she called the Sheriff’s Office to report the county offices were not staffed. She was told at that time there had been a bomb scare.
Hamann said she saw young people using a pop machine in one of the buildings. She said she doesn’t think the Sheriff’s Office did a good job securing the premises.
The Observer visited the courthouse about 3:45 and saw officers guarding entrances.
The Baker County Courthouse was evacuated about 2:30 Monday afternoon after a bomb threat was called in to the building, at 1995 Third St., about 2:20 p.m.
The offices were cleared and the building was closed while authorities attempted to locate a bomb-detecting dog to go through the courthouse, said Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner.
Courthouse employees were pushed back to the sidewalk behind Ace Hardware at Second Street and Washington Avenue while county administrators decided how to proceed.
Baker City Police, sheriff’s department deputies and OSP officers blocked the streets around the courthouse and directed traffic.
The Oregon Public Service Building in Salem, the Oregon State Police Criminal Investigation Division, and the Oregon Judicial Department are involved in coordinating a review of the threats to determine their connection to reported incidents inside and outside Oregon. The OSP said the Monday wave of bomb threats appear to be similar to multiple reports of threats received in Washington State Nov. 15, and in Nebraska Nov. 2.
— From OSP and local reports