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Bomb scare causes LaFortune evacuation

Teresa Fralish | Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Police ordered an evacuation of the LaFortune Student Center Tuesday afternoon after the discovery of two suspicious packages – initially thought to be potential explosives – outside the building’s east entrance. The situation was ultimately declared a false alarm, but not before a South Bend Police bomb squad was called to the scene and about 200 students and staff were evacuated. A LaFortune employee discovered the first package at about 1:25 p.m., said duty Notre Dame fire department officer Wayne Bishop, who was one of several security officials already on the scene due to a medical call. Once police arrived, the employee reported his discovery to officers at about 1:45 p.m., leading police to seal off the area behind LaFortune with tape and to request the bomb squad’s assistance. Police also began working with student activities officials to evacuate students and staff from LaFortune through the South Quad exit. Since LaFortune does not have a PA system, having student activities staff check all rooms seemed to be the quickest way to clear the building, said Brian Coughlin, director of Student Activities. Bishop described the first object as a standard size black leather briefcase, which was eventually identified as a mechanic’s tool kit. After the discovery of the first package, Bishop said officers immediately began canvassing the area for other potential explosives or suspicious packages. Both Notre Dame Security/Police Director Rex Rakow and Bishop said it is standard police procedure to begin searching for additional suspicious objects after a potential explosive is discovered. Though police were searching the vicinity, the second package was discovered by a male freshman student in a flower pot near the east entrance. The box was wrapped in brown paper and about the size of a CD case. “You always look for secondary devices,” Bishop said. “He just found it before we did.” Because bomb technicians needed to move the second package to examine it, police decided to eventually expand the security tape perimeter around all of LaFortune, Bishop said.When the bomb squad arrived, technicians first X-rayed the briefcase and then used specially-trained K-9 dogs to sniff it, said division chief Gary Horvath of the bomb squad. When these tests showed no indication of explosives, an agent wearing a bomb suit opened the brief case and determined that it was not dangerous. The squad team then proceeded to use X-rays and a dog to check the second package. When neither produced alarming results, an agent also opened the second package to verify that it contained no explosives. “Based on the X-ray we were able to quickly determine what we had,” Horvath said. Rakow said the second package contained a note and small air horn and appeared to be part of a scavenger hunt. Students and staff who evacuated said they were unaware at the time of the possible explosive threat. “They just told us to evacuate the building. They never really told us what was going on,” said Karen Mann, a Lauren Studios representative helping with senior yearbook pictures. “I was going into Starbucks,” Notre Dame sophomore Chrissy Igoe said. “I was just mad.” Officials reopened LaFortune at about 4:30 p.m. and the bomb squad departed shortly after. Both Rakow and Horvath said no further investigation would be necessary. “It fit the protocol of being suspicious,” Rakow said. “It falls in the category of better safe than sorry.”Rakow, who has been at the University for 23 years, added that Notre Dame has experienced previous similar threats, but nothing serious.

Contact Teresa Fralish at [email protected]