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Bomb threat disrupts El Jebel City Market

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Scott Condon/The Aspen TimesLaw enforcement officers gather outside the El Jebel City Market on Tuesday after a bomb threat was phoned into the store
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BASALT – The midvalley City Market and several surrounding businesses at Orchard Plaza were evacuated for 3.5 hours Tuesday because of a bomb threat.

Basalt police Sgt. Roderick O’Connor, the incident commander, said an unknown person called the store around 10:30 a.m. and said a bomb would explode at 5 p.m.

“You’ve got to take it seriously, for sure,” O’Connor said.

After 5 o’clock came and went without incident, businesses were allowed to reopen at about 5:30 p.m. By 6 p.m., it was business as usual for the supermarket, buzzing with commuter traffic. But the damage was done by that point. Authorities said there were probably tens of thousands of dollars in revenues lost. Business owners were scrambling to reopen Tuesday night, and those polled said they didn’t have an accurate estimate of lost revenues.

Law enforcement officials slowly cleared out the Orchard Plaza businesses starting at 2 p.m. O’Connor said there was no need to undertake a hasty evacuation and cause people to panic. Assistant managers for City Market stopped allowing customers to enter starting at 2 p.m., simply telling them the store would be closed for a couple of hours. Shoppers in the store were allowed to go about their business. One shopper who emerged to a nearly empty parking lot shortly before 3 p.m. said she was unaware there was a bomb threat.

Operators of surrounding businesses were warned at 2 p.m. they would have to close at 2:30 p.m., and police officers and firefighters blocked ingress to the parking lot. The Basalt Police Department was assisted by the Eagle and Pitkin County sheriff’s offices, Aspen Police Department and Basalt Fire Department.

Department managers at the grocery store went through aisles with police officers looking for anything suspicious once customers were gone, O’Connor said. Nothing was found.

The bomb squad arrived at 3:30 p.m., and the supermarket was cleared until about 5:30 p.m., when employees were allowed to re-enter and eager shoppers were allowed to park.

O’Connor said Aspen’s bomb scare on New Year’s Eve 2008 didn’t influence how Basalt handled its incident. In Aspen, Jim Blanning carried through with his threat and left several bombs around town, forcing widespread evacuation of downtown Aspen and economic disaster on the business district in what should have been one of its busiest nights.

“I think this is how we would have handled it” regardless of the Blanning incident, O’Connor said. The mobilization and coordination of the various agencies was “a great exercise” and practice for emergency response, he said.

Authorities considered evacuating homes in the Sopris Village subdivision closest to City Market, as well as the commercial complex around Movieland, but neither step was deemed necessary.

O’Connor wouldn’t comment on the gender of the caller. He said the supermarket’s “antiquated” telephone system didn’t include caller ID, so no number was obtained.

O’Connor said he couldn’t speculate on whether the threat came from a disgruntled former employee, an angry customer or a random caller. The voice of the caller didn’t match the profile of the only potential disgruntled former employee from recent times, he said.

Anyone with possible information about the identity of the caller is urged to call Sgt. O’Connor of the Basalt Police Department at 927-4316.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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