Bomb squad checks mysterious Belleville package, finds phone books

News-DemocratApril 22, 2013 

Three hours after a pair of downtown medical buildings were evacuated because of a suspicious package, a bomb squad determined just before noon Monday that the box in question contained telephone books.

Belleville Police Chief Bill Clay said staff arrived Monday morning at St. Elizabeth's Hospital Medical Arts Building E to find the plain, unmarked box near the building's entrance at its northwest corner.

"It was people being cautious in light of the Boston Marathon bombing and I don't blame them," Clay said. "They decided to call the police department and to evacuate. It was definitely the right thing to do. What else are they going to do, go up to it and shake it? They definitely did the right thing."

St. Elizabeth's hospital leaders at about 8:30 a.m. evacuated Building E and neighboring Building D across the Lincoln Street from the main hospital building, which was not affected.

Belleville Police Capt. Don Sax said his department received a received a report of a suspicious package on the Building E's parking lot. The police department then set up a perimeter around the building from Washington street in the north to Lincoln Street to the south and from second street on the east side to third street on the west side.

Members of the Secretary of State Police bomb squad arrived at the parking lot at 11 a.m. A man wearing an olive green blast-proof suit who was pulling a metal cart made a pair of trips to the area where the package was located and back to the bomb squad truck.

Then, in an anti-climactic moment, firefighters took off their fire-proof jackets and helmets and began to take down yellow caution tape.

Clay said it did not seem that someone was attempting to play a prank. He said the box was simply a delivery of phone books that wasn't expected.

"People are on edge when you have something like what happened in Boston," Clays said. "It's always better to be on the safe side."

While the streets had emptied long before the all clear was given, about 50 people, some of them medical center employees, were standing on the back parking lot of the downtown post office.

Cathedral Grade School is less than half a block from Medical Arts Building E. Principal Linda Hobbs said where she was trying to maintain a business as usual atmosphere in a tense situation

"They told us that we're safe and we don't need to do anything differently than we normally would," Hobbs said. "They told us we were safe, so we feel safe."

Belleville will host its annual Law Day Run on Saturday morning downtown. Sax said last week that the event always has a strong police presence and that he didn't believe there would be any issues with security after the Boston Marathon bombings. But he said, while people may be on edge after the terror attack, they should go with their instincts and, if they think they see something suspicious, report it to police.

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