Northumberland County Courthouse evacuated after bomb threat
SUNBURY - A "credible" bomb threat followed several "unusual phone calls" made to the Northumberland County Courthouse on Friday afternoon, resulting in an evacuation and an early end to the work week.
Robert B. Sacavage, president judge, said the bomb threat was made by telephone to a secretary in the court administrator's office about 1 p.m. The entire courthouse was evacuated within minutes, he said.
According to Sacavage, who was in the court administrator's office at the time, the caller said, "There's a bomb in the courthouse and get the **** out."
"(The secretary) sort of made an exclamation, 'Oh, my God,' hung up the phone and said there was a bomb threat," he said.
Deputy Sheriff Randy Coe was immediately informed, followed by other courthouse personnel. Word spread quickly and the evacuation ensued.
Evacuees were directed across Market Street to Cameron Park. The crowd was dispersed before 2 p.m. after the court schedule was canceled and the building was closed for the day.
"Everyone was cooperative and exited the building in a timely and efficient manner," he said.
Northumberland County Sheriff's deputies first swept the building, but nothing was found in their thorough search, Coe said.
As a precaution, a bomb-sniffing dog from the Union County Sheriff's Office was called to also sweep the building.
No suspicious items were found, according to Coe and a press release from Chief Clerk Gary Steffen.
Four deputies were expected to remain on scene until the normal business day ended while the other two were out serving civil papers. The deputies were walking around inside and outside the building every 20 minutes to look for any further suspicious activity.
No other courthouse personnel remained.
No one was injured.
Sunbury Police are investigating and were working Friday to identify the caller and discover from where the phone call originated.
"Everyone did a good job. We all coordinated very well to get the building clear and to determine what to do with the courthouse," Coe said.
A pre-trial conference for Naheem J. Reams was scheduled for 1:15 p.m. before Judge Charles H. Saylor, one of 20 pre-trials on the judge's afternoon docket. There were also five plea hearings scheduled for Sacavage. Judge William H. Wiest had no hearings scheduled.
Reams was shot by a city police officer at the culmination of a high speed chase in Sunbury on June 5. He is facing multiple charges including aggravated assault.
A threat was made to city police officers on June 6 related to the Reams case. That threat was considered "credible," Police Chief Stephen Mazzeo said at the time. On Friday, he dismissed any speculation on motive or a connection, saying it was too early to do so.
Sacavage also wouldn't comment on possible motives or connections.
"I'll just note that there were some unusual activities. ... Unusual telephone calls" prior to the bomb threat, Sacavage said. Those calls, he said, were not threatening.
"We are not taking this threat lightly. We believe this was a credible threat, a real threat," Sacavage said.
Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi echoed the judge's comment. "We have to take the threat seriously, we don't want to endanger anyone," he said.
The threat was made as the lunch hour was drawing to a close and people were returning for afternoon court proceedings. Had the call come minutes later, the courthouse would have been more heavily populated.
District Attorney Tony Rosini and his staff were working on the third floor to prepare for the afternoon docket when they were notified.
"By the time we left, there was nobody else left in the building," he said.
There were no inmates being held in the courthouse holding cell at the time. Sacavage said Coe called Northumberland County Prison to hold off the expected prisoner transports.
The emergency was not directly reported to the county 9-1-1 center. Coe led the evacuation efforts because Sheriff Chad Reiner was not at the courthouse. Coe coordinated the use of the bomb-sniffing dog.
Mazzeo was nearby at Sunbury City Hall and responded immediately when called by Coe to assist. He was the lone city police officer on scene. Other city officers were assisting on a police incident in Northumberland.
Fire department personnel were not called to the scene while the sheriff's deputies swept the building, Mazzeo said.
Sacavage expects the courthouse will reopen Monday and business will resume as usual.
The courthouse was evacuated Oct. 8 after a natural gas leak outside the building.
Sacavage said he remembers only one other threat and evacuation at the courthouse over the past decade.