All clear: Police solve Belleville post office backpack scare

News-DemocratJanuary 15, 2014 

— Police say a person who was trying to stash a backpack before going into the St. Clair County Building Wednesday is responsible for a suspicious package scare at the downtown Belleville post office.

"It was a package which belonged to someone who was going to the courthouse," Police Department Capt. Don Sax said. "Apparently it contained something they couldn't take into the courthouse so they attempted to conceal it between courthouse and the 9-1-1 building. They seemingly were coming back to get it. But it was discovered before that could happen."

Sax said Wednesday that no arrests had been made. He declined to release further details.

According to the Belleville Fire Department nothing threatening was found in the bag, only personal items.

A young male, possibly in his late teens or early 20s, with a backpack was seen being questioned by police outside the post office a little after 10 a.m. Wednesday. Soon after that police cleared the scene.

Herb Simmons, director of the St. Clair County Emergency Services Agency, said a class about bomb threats was being held at the emergency services building when surveillance cameras spotted the young man drop the bag off.

"The students thought it was part of the act," Simmons said. "We tried to catch him before he got into the courthouse but we couldn't. So we evacuated our building and let the postal service know what was going on."

Workers stood on the back parking lot of the postal building near the corner of West Washington and South Second streets. They waited for about 15 minutes before being told they could go back in.

Police said they got the call about the package shortly before 9:45 a.m. Four cars from the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department and the Belleville Police Department and two trucks from the Belleville Fire Department set up a perimeter outside.

Simmons said the scare turned out to be a big deal about nothing. But he hopes the unexpected exercise, which made witnesses fear a scene reminiscent of the Boston Marathon backpack bombings, proves to be good experience for 9-1-1 workers and first responders.

"Everything went textbook," Simmons said. "We relocated our dispatchers and Belleville stepped up as our backup and did a great job."

The situation was resolved and business got back to normal by about 10:10 a.m.

At the courthouse, bailiffs sit at the entrance to hallways where courtrooms are located and require anyone who enters to go through metal detectors and submit to a search of their bags. There they seize anything that can be used as a weapon or any illegal items they find, including drugs.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 618-239-2626.

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