At least 17 of the 36 county courthouses across Oregon, and OSP headquarters in Salem, were searched and some evacuated Monday afternoon after an apparently coordinated series of telephoned bomb threats -- the third around the country in recent weeks.
First Deschutes County DA Patrick Flaherty’s office, then the rest of the courthouse complex was evacuated in downtown Bend starting shortly before 2:30 p.m. after a phone call was received claiming explosives would be found.
DA’s staff members were sent to the state-county office building at 1300 Wall Street to await the all-clear, but that could take some time.
Oregon State Police confirmed similar calls to courthouses over about a one-hour period in:
* Crook County
* Baker County
* Curry County
* Benton County
* Jefferson County
* Tillamook County
* Deschutes County
* Morrow County
* Jackson County
* Grant County
* Malheur County
* Wallowa County
* Umatilla County
* Marion County
* Klamath County
* Lake County
* Union County
(NewsChannel 21 was told Yamhill and Sherman counties also had similar calls, although OSP is not updating its tally further.)
Deschutes County sheriff's deputies and Bend police conducted an extensive search of the courthouse, DA's office and surrounding area and found no items to substantiate the threat, said sheriff's Sgt. Mark Eggert, adding that the offices would be open as usual on Tuesday.
Prineville police said the Crook County courthouse got a phone call that "reported explosive devices in the building." That prompted a precautionary evacuation of the building that lasted about 45 minutes, until a thorough check turned up no problems.
According to Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings, "These threats appear to be similar to multiple reports received Nov. 15 in Washington state (approximately eight reports) and Nov. 2 (approximately nine reports) in Nebraska which were all determined to be unfounded."
"At this time, some of the locations have reported evacuations while responding law enforcement personnel conduct area checks for any suspicious objects," Hastings said. "None of the reports have confirmed finding any suspicious objects. Other locations have not evacuated occupants but are also conducting area checks."
The Oregon State Police General Headquarters in the Public Service Building in Salem received a similar report around 3 p.m. The building was evacuated for a time and was allowing employees back in to their work locations around 4 p.m., after an area check was completed.
Authorities must take any such threats seriously, Bend police Lt. Chris Carney told news partner KBND radio.
"We have an unknown caller who is claiming there is a bomb at the courthouse," Carney said. "Obviously we have to take all of these serious, whether it's true or not, because clearly there's a chance that any time someone makes that threat that they could actually fulfill it."
Carney said no suspicious items had been found, but encouraged people to stay out of the area for at least a few hours. Those with a court date Monday afternoon were urged to contact their attorney or the courts to reschedule.
Hastings noted that security at county courthouses are under sheriff's departments' jurisdiction.
Hastings said OSP hazardous device technicians "have not been dispatched anywhere because nothing (has been) confirmed requiring (a) response."