Bomb scare closes shopping center

Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.  A backpack containing what looked like parts of an improvised explosive device was found in front of the Nederland Police Department on Tuesday morning. The NPD is located in the Tebo Shopping Center in Nederland which was evacuated after the discovery. The incoming officer brought the bag into the office and realized that the contents were suspicious and immediately began following a bomb threat protocol.

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Numerous agencies set up a command post at the lodge across the street from the shopping center, where hazmat teams from Boulder, Lafayette and Louisville brought in their large trucks and trailers carrying equipment. Entrances to the shopping center were blocked by Nederland police officers and Town of Nederland Public Works employees, keeping people from getting too close to potential danger.

Members of the Boulder District Attorney’s Office and the Boulder Bomb Squad arrived to help with the investigation and neutralize the device in the backpack. Federal agents were called in for the situation.

As the agencies worked out a strategy for removing the backpack and its contents, some of the business owners and employees waited around to see if they could reopen and return to work, but by early afternoon, it was apparent the shopping center was closed for the day.

Around 2 p.m. the Boulder Bomb Squad sent two robots into the deserted parking lot to remove the backpack from the police station. The two bots came out with the backpack and placed it in the center of the parking lot, one of them opening the bag and the other removing items, including plastic bags of white powder. It was a cautious, long process completed slowly and deliberately as the emergency workers looked on. The robots were methodical and obviously knew their job well.

Once removed, the items were taken to Boulder labs to be analyzed.

Nederland schools were placed on lockdown while the suspicious device was being investigated but the students were able to leave at their usual time.

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Wild Bear executive director Jill Dreves and her employees set up a meeting at the Happy Trails coffee shop across from the shopping center while they waited for news and watched the action in the parking lot.

Dan and Susan Ball, owners of B & F Mountain Market, took their employees to the Ned Restaurant for breakfast. It was frustrating for them knowing that large produce trucks were unable to deliver their orders. Susan Ball said some of them went to other stores waiting to see if the center would be open later.

“We finally let all the employees go home, but it was fun having breakfast together, kind of like our Christmas parties.”

Many residents, and visitors, expecting to do their usual shopping were surprised to find the center closed, but most were good natured and moved on, changing their plans.

Employees showing up to go to work weren’t sure if they should wait or go home. People couldn’t believe that this was happening in Nederland.

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Scott Havnes, of Dam Liquor, stood across from the shopping center watching the proceedings saying that this was the day he had to get his orders out by 4:30 and he didn’t know what he was going to do about that.

The team of agencies kept the center closed all night. Around 1 a.m., Town Administrator Alisha Reis sent out a notice on the town’s website and in a reverse 911 call that the device could not be moved and would be detonated where it was in the parking lot. Residents were told to stay in their houses. This was a decision based on the need for safety of the public.

Nederland Town Marshal Paul Carrill said, “All precautions are being taken to assure the safety to the nearby neighborhood. The sound of the detonation will be similar to a firework boom.” He said there could by some impact to the property, but Nederland Police and firefighter would be hand to secure the center.

At 1:30 a.m. the wail of sirens sounded over the town for about five seconds, warning the residents of the blast.

Barb Hardt, the shopping center manager, witnessed the detonation, saying there was a large boom, but no flash or flames. “About 20 minutes later, we were told it was safe to go back outside.”

Chief Carrill called her at 3:30 a.m. to say that no businesses in the shopping center could open until they were given clearance. By Wednesday morning, the B & F Mountain Market was open, people walking in and out, with no sign of the potential disaster that had taken place on Tuesday.

As of press time there was no information about a suspect or suspects. In the morning there was no sign of the detonation, no gaping hole in the pavement. The lot was cleared.

Town Administrator Alisha Reis said she had never been involved in a bomb scare situation before, she was amazed at how calmly everyone performed their duties and how professionally Marshal Paul Carill handled the event.

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“His leadership skills continue to be impressive. It has been a tough year for the community and I would like to thank the businesses who helped caffeinate and feed our responders.  Their support was very much appreciated. The business support is really great.

“The Board of Trustees were helpful and supportive; we appreciate what they have done. They are shoulder to shoulder with us. They knew we have to dig into resources at these events.

“It is heartbreaking we have this device planted in our community. It’s not who we are, and we can’t believe it would happen here. A bomb threat is so far from anything we imagine.”
The investigation will continue to look for who and why this local act of terror was perpetrated.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.