People alert to possible bomb threats Public is more wary of suspicious-looking packages, officials say

Recent events add to fear

77.2% increase in calls recorded statewide last year

September 30, 1996|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

People are becoming more aware of bags and boxes left in public places, fearing the packages may be bombs, law enforcement officials say. Bomb squads have been running to every call, inspecting packages that have turned out to contain anything from steamed crab shells to toner cartridges from copy machines.

"I don't think people are fearful, but I think they're recognizing the times in which they live," said W. Faron Taylor, deputy state fire marshal. "The little things they didn't pay attention to in the past they're now paying attention to."

Attention is being paid, Taylor said, because of the bombings at the World Trade Center in New York, the federal building in Oklahoma City and the Olympics in Atkanta.

Although University of Maryland spokeswoman Beth Workman said two staff psychologists said they didn't believe the public was more aware of the threat, a rash of bomb scares seems to contradict them.

Reports of bomb threats, scares, and discovery of explosives had been on the decline in 1994 but jumped 77.2 percent statewide last year, Taylor said. In 1994, 44 calls were received, compared with 78 in 1995.

The state fire marshal's bomb squad handles all calls in the state except for those in Baltimore and Prince George's and Baltimore counties.

Lt. Donald E. Healy, commander of the Baltimore bomb squad, said city police have received up to four times as many calls for bomb scares and threats this year as last.

Last Thursday, a state fire marshal shut down the U.S. District Courthouse on Lombard Street in Baltimore for about 90 minutes after a passer-by saw a briefcase on a bench in the courthouse plaza. Inside, city police bomb technicians found a fuel dye analyzer.

County police and fire officials went out twice in one night last week to inspect packages near mailboxes in Dorsey and Pasadena.

One was a box of educational videos to be shipped to a Harford County hospital. The package was left under a mailbox in a Dorsey office park. The other, a box of empty toner cartridges, was wedged between two mailboxes at a Pasadena post office.

Two weeks ago police and fire officials raced across the county because of suspected bombs in Glen Burnie and Annapolis. And traffic was stopped near a local bar in Herald Harbor for 2 1/2 hours earlier this month as a robot defused what turned out to be a crack cocaine pipe.

Officials encourage people to report suspicious packages, regardless of the inconvenience it may cause.

"Because the packages are being reported, [terrorists] realize their actions will not go unnoticed and that they may not be able to accomplish what they set out to do," Taylor said.

Healy said people should not be concerned about the work for emergency workers. "It's our job," he said.

Pub Date: 9/30/96

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