By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Federal investigators say someone removed a home-confinement electronic monitoring bracelet, and then attempted to mail the activated device from the Elizabeth Kee Federal Building in Bluefield.
When employees at the ground-level postal center located inside of the federal building came across a package that was “beeping,” the federal building was evacuated. Police also restricted all traffic along Bland and Federal streets for a period of about an hour until a bomb technician squad from the West Virginia State Police Princeton Detachment was able to safely open the suspicious package, according to Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Lair.
“At 11 a.m. (Tuesday) morning the U.S. Post Office in the basement of the courthouse actually took in an outgoing package there and the postal employee noticed it was a beeping-type noise,” Lair said. “So obviously that raises a red flag very quickly. So they took the package up to the floor where we do the screenings of visitors and mail, and put it into an X-ray machine to examine the content of the package. From that view it continued to be disconcerting because it was an electronic device with multiple wires coming out of it.”
Lair said officials then ordered an immediate evacuation of the federal building. The bomb squad was contacted, and the Bluefield Police Department and Bluefield Fire Department set up a perimeter around the federal building where all traffic was restricted.
Lair said officials were able to determine that the package contained an activated home confinement bracelet.
“It was in fact a (Mercer) County home confinement (bracelet),” Lair said. “It was brought in to be mailed from the location. We are continuing to investigate it on our end. Obviously the county is involved as well since it is a piece of their equipment.”
Lair said federal postal inspectors also will be involved in the investigation.
The building was cleared by the bomb squad in a little over an hour, and employees were allowed to go back into the courthouse. Traffic also was allowed to resume along Bland and Federal streets about an hour later.
The local investigation — in conjunction with the federal investigation — continues and criminal charges are possible, Sgt. J.T. Brooks of the Bluefield Police Department said.
Brooks said the federal building was evacuated just before noon Tuesday. The Bluefield Fire Department also was contacted, and assisted with the evacuation of the building and traffic control.
The evacuation of the federal building, and the closure of Bland and Federal streets, was the correct thing to do in light of the unknown threat, Bluefield City Manager Jim Ferguson said.
“They did the right thing and the proper thing,” Ferguson said. “When you are looking through a scanner, and you see something that has wires and batteries, it is a concern. It was a wise precaution to take. They did the proper thing.”
— Contact Charles Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org