From the publisher's desk

Flagler bomb scare turned out to be just a delivery of Observer newspapers

Explosive? Yes, but not in a bad way, fortunately.

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A suspicious package was delivered. The bomb squad was called. The courthouse was shut down.

All for a bundle of newspapers. Yes, the March 7 edition of the Palm Coast Observer was eventually exploded as a training exercise. To my knowledge, it is the first time a bundle of Observers has ever been exploded.

“Usually you deliver the news, this time you made the news,” Sheriff Rick Staly said.

It all started with a lack of communication with a new driver. When bundles of newspapers are delivered after hours on Wednesday nights, they are sometimes placed in kitchen-size garbage bags first, to protect them from the weather. This time, it happened to be an opaque gray, scented garbage bag, which made it appear suspicious. In addition, this bundle (actually three bundles) is normally delivered to the Government Services Building, 1769 E. Moody Blvd., Building 2. However, the delivery list didn’t include the building number, and so instead, the delivery was made to the courthouse, known as the Hammond Justice Center, at 1769 E. Moody Blvd., Building 1.

Therefore, the early morning security review flagged the delivery as suspicious.

The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office posted this breaking news on its Facebook page: “There is a heavy law enforcement presence outside the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center, as FCSO and the Bunnell Police Department are looking into a suspicious incident. The courthouse parking lot is closed at this time. Please avoid the area.”

Not long after, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad arrived to investigate the suspicious rectangular package in a black garbage bag.

That’s when I got a call from Sheriff Rick Staly, asking me if I knew anything about this suspicious package. I said it was a new driver who likely put a bundle in front of the wrong door. That was the same story told by the new driver himself, so the clues were pointing in the same direction.

Emergency Operations Chief Jonathan Lord, who is out of state at a training, got a text from his team also, letting him know that there had been a bomb threat due to a bag left outside the courthouse, which is just a few hundred yards from the EOC. Then, the ominous follow-up text from his EOC team revealed there might be a second suspicious package: “We have a bag, too,” Lord was told.

But when they texted Lord a photo of the bag, he thought it was probably the newspaper delivery. Immediately, Lord's staff came to the same conclusion. Lord recalled: “As I’m replying, he says, ‘Nevermind, we figured out it’s the newspaper.’” 

At 9:45 a.m., FCSO posted an update on Facebook: “The suspicious package has been rendered safe. The area is being cleared and courthouse operations are expected to be back to normal within the hour. ALL CLEAR”

Staly called me again with an update: the Bomb Squad had taken the opportunity to turn the incident into a training exercise, and the bundle of newspapers had been “exploded.”

While the incident was rich in irony — because of course the Observer is metaphorically explosive in a good way every week, right? — it also caused a lot of work by our first responders, not to mention stress and fear for all who work at the courthouse, as well as the new driver.

As Staly said in a Facebook post: "Fortunately, this was a false alarm, but it still shows that our security protocols and training worked perfect in the event this had been proven to be a real danger. I commend our Communications Center, Real Time Crime Center, and everyone involved to ensure the safety of our judges, courthouse staff, and citizens."

I apologize for the lack of training and communication that led to this happening. Lessons were learned, and we will do better at training new drivers. We appreciate everyone who reviewed the security footage and responded to make sure that our community is safe. 

And, no, this is not an April Fool’s article (unfortunately).


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