McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Police/Courts

October 4, 2013

Courthouse cleared after anthrax threat

McALESTER — The Pittsburg County Courthouse was evacuated and closed for the day following an anonymous anthrax threat Friday.

After a thorough check by a hazardous materials team, officials said no anthrax was found.

Police say the threat was delivered in a 911 call Friday at 8:19 saying anthrax had been "deposited in the McAlester Oklahoma courthouse."

Pittsburg County Joel Kerns said police may have narrowed information that may lead to a possible suspect in the case.

“We have located information related to the cell phone used to make the call,” Kerns said of Friday’s call.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anthrax is caused by a bacteria that can sicken or kill people and is one of the most likely agents to be used in a biological attack or bioterrorism.

This is the second time this year officials were involved after threat was made affecting the courthouse. In September, Pittsburg County sheriff’s deputies and McAlester police conducted a sweep of the Pittsburg County Courthouse after police received a phone call from an individual who reported he’d overheard heard a comment about “explosives” and a “courthouse.” No explosives were found after that call last month.

On Friday, courthouse offices and buildings next to the courthouse — including the Pittsburg County Election Board and the office of District 18 District Attorney Farley Ward — were also evacuated. Both are adjacent to the courthouse and were checked. Those adjacent offices were cleared and employees returned to work just after 10 a.m., officials said. The rest of the courthouse remained closed for the day.

After the evacuation, city and county emergency crews gathered for an executive briefing in the conference room at The Bank NA building across the street from the courthouse. During the meeting, a recording of the 911 call was played aloud. Officials at the session included McAlester Police Chief Gary Wansick, McAlester Fire Capt. Doug Basinger, Fire Chief Brett Brewer, Kerns, Undersheriff Richard Bedford, District Judge Thomas Bartheld, Associate District Judge James Bland and Pittsburg County Emergency Management Director Trent Meyers.

Kerns said a hazardous materials clean-up crew was called in from Muskogee to check and clean the area. A local hazardous materials unit was reportedly being serviced at the time of the incident.

The courthouse was cleared by the Muskogee team later Friday and the building will be open for business Monday morning, Meyers said late Friday.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.

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