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Verdict: No bomb

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

(Photo)
A crowded courtroom at Bedford County Courthouse is evacuated after Tuesday morning's bomb threat.
(T-G Photo by Brian Mosely) [Order this photo]
A packed courtroom -- along with the rest of Bedford County Courthouse -- was evacuated Tuesday following a bomb threat phoned to a Bedford County official's office.

The threat was received by County Clerk Kathy Prater's office at mid-morning. It was one of 30 received across Tennessee, said Director Scott Johnson of Bedford County Emergency Management Agency.

General Sessions Judge Charles Rich had just completed the reading of a 92-page criminal dockett when he suddenly asked that the courtroom be evacuated.

Defendants left the courtroom in an orderly manner and left through the four entrances to the building, with some standing out in the cold and waiting for the building to be searched.

All other offices in the courthouse were evacuated as well on orders of County Mayor Eugene Ray, Johnson said.

Many sought the warmth of their vehicles, while others filled nearby businesses to stay warm.

Shelbyville Assistant Fire Chief Brian Nicholson and Tammy King, the employee in Prater's office who took the call, both told the T-G that the calls appeared to be a recording.

Not alone

Calls were also received at approximately the same time in Giles, Cannon, Clay, Cheatham, Franklin Grundy counties in middle Tennessee, and their courthouses were emptied as well. In all, 30 such threats were phoned in to county clerks' offices across Tennessee, and the federal courthouse in Memphis.

TEMA was first notified of the multiple threats around 10:15 a.m. Counties in west Tennessee receiving threats were Benton, Carroll Crockett, Decatur, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Shelby and Chester.

East Tennessee counties getting the bomb threats included Anderson, Fentress, Bledsoe, Grainger, Blount, Greene, Campbell, Hamblin, Carter, Hamilton, Claiborne, Hancock, Cumberland and Bradley.

Protective actions

Authorities checked businesses on the Shelbyville square and directed traffic around the area while waiting for a bomb sniffing dog to arrive.

"When a bomb threat is received we get with the building's owner and ask what they want," Johnson said. "The mayor (County Mayor Eugene Ray) requested a bomb dog.

"The biggest part of the wait is that we don't have a bomb dog. One had to be called out of Nashville. We were one of the fortunate counties that had a bomb dog sent to us."

After the dog arrived, the search began with personnel from each office taking part.

"Representatives from the different offices in the courthouse help us look around," Johnson said. "They would know if anything looks different or out of place. We also prevent cell phone and radio traffic during that time.

"If something suspicious is seen we take the bomb dog and check it out."

The dog and its handler headed directly from Shelbyville to Woodbury for a check of the Cannon County courthouse, Johnson was told.

People were allowed back in the Bedford County courthouse sometime before 1 p.m. after no bomb was found, Johnson said.

"It may have been a robo call, they're not sure. We were one of the first counties."

Command post

At Shelbyville City Hall, fire department shift commander Matt Doak asked that workers stay away from windows, and there was a brief period when city employees were moved into the basement, according to city manager Jay Johnson.

During the wait of several hours, Scott Johnson, along with local fire and police used the conference room in the basement as a command post, until about 12:30 p.m..

The Shelbyville police departments, Bedford County Sheriff's Department and Bedford County Emergency Medical Services were also involved, Scott Johnson said.

Meanwhile, the many defendants who were appearing before Rich headed to the courtroom at the Shelbyville police department, where they were either appointed a public defender, or had their court dates continued until January, circuit court clerk Thomas Smith explained.

Last week, a similar bomb threat hoax targeted 28 courthouses in Oregon. Other threats have been reported in Nebraska and Washington state.