These were the early minutes in an unfolding drama. The police were surrounding a Greyhound bus parked in downtown Portsmouth. They believed the bus contained 17 people and a bomb.
I joined the gawkers for a minute and then continued on my run. It was pretty much the same scene when I returned. I went up to my office, in a building just outside the evacuation area, and went back to work- keeping tabs on the drama outside via the internet.
During the afternoon 16 of the bus occupants were able to leave, one at a time. When I passed back through on my way home, around 6pm, the standoff was still ongoing. The number of responders on the scene had increased to dozens of officers, officials, sharpshooters, firemen, and SWAT teams with all manner of weaponry and gear.
Local police were joined throughout the day by officers from Exeter, Seabrook, Epping, Hampton, Stratham, Rockingham County Sheriff's Department, Seacoast Emergency Response Team (SERT), a K-9 unit from Dover, the N.H. State Police bomb disposal unit, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, immigration and customs officials and the FBI. Even the Portsmouth animal control officer's truck was parked in the area.And they had a robot.
At approximately 12:30 p.m. an armored vehicle known as a “Bearcat” was called in from Rye. Exeter Police Chief Richard Kane and Hampton Chief Brian Page stood by, while SWAT officers combed the area wearing riot gear and with rifles drawn. Exeter police sent a Special Operations Vehicle and Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young arrived early afternoon...
One person remained on the bus.
After a 9 hour standoff, the last man on the bus was convinced to get off and surrendered himself to police.
A few details have emerged. There was no bomb. There have been no reports of a gun, other weapon, or of threats made against any of the bus passengers. The entire incident seems to have been based on an erroneous report. A big misunderstanding. The last man to leave the bus is from Burundi and speaks Swahili.
Two of the other passengers were arrested for failing to cooperate with police. One of them was shot with a taser.
Portsmouth Police Chief David “Lou” Ferland said late Thursday night during a brief press conference that investigators “do not believe this to be a terrorist event”.
This may not have been a terrorist event. But it was initially, indistinguishable from one. It's tempting to accuse the authorities of overreaction. But we can be grateful that that these resources are available, that the incident was treated with patience, and that nobody was seriously hurt.
Even in little ol' Portsmouth, New Hampshire there is, apparently, quite an army that can be brought to bear should the threat of terrorism rear it's ugly head. Our forces of law enforcement are ready for any emergency and eager to leap to our defense.
Maybe a little too eager. Next time the animal control officer can probably stay home. Bring back the robot though.