HOLLIDAYSBURG - A bomb threat was directed at the Blair County Courthouse Wednesday evening, police said, and a bomb-detecting dog identified a suspicious item in the building that Hollidaysburg police Chief Jeffrey Ketner said turned out to be unfounded.
Ketner said the dog sniffed out a substance in the chlorine family.
Police asked residents within a two-block radius to leave their homes as Penn State University's bomb squad rushed to the courthouse, Ketner said.
A bomb threat called in to WTAJ-TV
evacuated the Blair County Courthouse shortly before 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening.
Ketner said two threats were sent to WTAJ-TV, the first at 6:39 p.m. and a second sent three minutes later. The messages indicated there was "some type of explosive device" set to detonate if authorities began an unspecified trial, he said.
"A dog hit on it twice," Ketner said.
He later revealed at a news briefing that the county's bomb-detection dog made two separate sweeps of the building and honed in on a box used to hold reams of paper, which was found in the courthouse's basement purchasing room.
He cautioned that other, nondangerous devices and chemicals can alert bomb dogs.
Blair County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said he had contacted Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard, who told him no significant trial was scheduled to start Thursday.
As of 11 p.m., Penn State's bomb squad had sent a robot and technicians to investigate the box, Ketner said, and would alert police to empty the area.
"No location's good, but in the basement's better" for peoples' safety, Ketner said.
Ketner said police are still unsure who sent the threats.
Traffic was blocked on several streets in the borough, and nearly two dozen residents were directed to wait out a police investigation at nearby Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company, where the Red Cross was providing doughnuts, cider and coffee.
Several people said they weren't told the nature of the threat, just that there was an incident at the courthouse.
Walnut Street resident Ron Stellabotte said he had just returned home from grocery shopping around 9:15 p.m. when his wife, Nancy, told him they had to head to the fire hall.
"[Police] didn't tell us why," he said. "Just that we had to evacuate."
A nearby Mulberry Street neighbor then told him about the bomb threat, he said.
Heather McCoy, also a Walnut Street resident, said police arrived at her home around 9 p.m.
Tomassetti said Wednesday night's incident was the first in his memory a courthouse threat produced "a hit" from a bomb-detection dog.
It's also the first time such a threat came in after regular business hours, he said, leading police to give it more credence.
Ketner said around 11:15 p.m. the bomb squad had cleared most of the courthouse.
"We found nothing else," he said, but if the threat remained it might affect courthouse business today.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457. Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.