ANDERSON — City and county government employees found themselves with an extended — but forced — break from work Tuesday as a bomb threat shut down a multi-block area in downtown Anderson.
At 8:40 a.m., Anderson police received a call from the Broadway and School Street Ricker’s payphone in which the caller made a “chemical bomb” threat to the city and county government buildings, said Anderson Police Department spokesman Detective Joel Sandefur.
The threat came just days after one was made at Anderson’s Wal-Mart, 2321 Charles St., early Saturday morning by phone.
Whether there was any connection between the two threats, Sandefur said, it’s too soon to tell. No arrests had been made in either case as of Tuesday night.
On Tuesday, both government buildings were evacuated shortly after the call, a two-block perimeter set up and traffic routed away for about two hours as Anderson police and fire cleared the City Building and the Madison County Sheriff’s Department set up a command center at Jackson and Ninth streets to oversee inspection of the Madison County Government Center.
The Madison County Mobile Command Unit was there, as well as the Tactical Support Unit that raised a camera far into the air directed at the county offices.
While any threat is taken seriously, Sheriff’s Department Maj. Brian Bell said, it was heightened by the mention of a chemical agent: cyanide.
Both the Madison County Hazardous Materials Team and explosives K-9s from the Madison and Delaware County sheriff’s departments were brought in to do searches.
City spokeswoman Charlee Turner said city workers were allowed back in after about 45 minutes. County workers were given the all clear shortly before 11 a.m.
Sandefur said police have already reviewed the surveillance footage at the gas station, which did not reveal any leads, and have processed the payphone.
Ricker’s employees told The Herald Bulletin they could not comment.
Tuesday’s threat interrupted not only the employees’ day, but those who had business at the buildings.
James Hampton was inside the county building when people were told to leave.
“We got the bum’s rush out,” said Hampton, who took up a spot to wait at the perimeter of the blocked-off area on the west side of Jackson Street.
Those with court dates, Bell said, are being instructed to call the court they were scheduled to appear in to reschedule.
Evacuees with cars parked inside the cordoned perimeter were left to wait it out, for the most part unable to remove their vehicles.
The Rev. Gerald Peak was on his way into the area when he found himself being rerouted.
“It was crazy… They’ve got sheriffs everywhere – the bridge all the way down to Sixth Street,” Peak said Tuesday morning.
Staffers from the county auditor’s office said they had been told to evacuate to the parking garage at Eighth and Meridian, as per the building’s emergency plan.
But twice Tuesday they were told to scoot back, eventually landing them in the Moneyhun’s parking lot, at 115 W. Eighth St. Some went for a walk, shopped or bought coffee at the Ricker’s across the street, said Auditor Jane Lyons.
“The worst part is this is pay (check) week,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
Staff used the last bomb threat, first auditor’s deputy Patty Mauck said, as an excuse to grab lunch in a nearby cafe.
A written threat made to the Madison County Government Center in November 2011 resulted in the arrest of Cheryl R. Boyer of Anderson.
“We always take these things seriously,” County Commissioner John Richwine said.
Peak, the minister of Zion Baptist Church, said, “You’ve got to take all this seriously now, the way things are.”
Anyone who might know the identity of or seen the caller is asked to contact Lt. Detective David Callahan of the Sheriff’s Department at (765) 646-9281.
Staff reporters Baylee Pulliam and Nancy Elliot contributed to this report.