Bomb threat empties courts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 7, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

A bomb threat at the Godwin Courts Building brought trials to a halt and forced nearly 1,000 people out onto the sidewalks of downtown Suffolk Friday morning.

Within minutes after the call came in around 10:45 a.m., police had blocked off North Main Street between Market and East and West Washington streets. As people exiting the courthouse were directed to safety a block away from the building, fire and police searched the building.

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Authorities found nothing suspicious, said Capt. Jim Judkins, spokesman for the Suffolk Fire Department.

The call came from a telephone kiosk next to the former Downtowner II Restaurant on North Main Street, police said.

As people began filing back into the building, Suffolk Fire Marshall Arthur Barrett reiterated a statement he’s made many times before:

&uot;We need security cameras outside, around the courts building,&uot; he said. &uot;If we had the cameras around the buildings, we may have some clue as to who is making these calls.

&uot;It not only costs the city when something like this happens, but it also inconveniences so many people.&uot;

Calling in a bomb threat is a Class V felony that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, said Suffolk’s Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson.

&uot;Bomb threats are taken very seriously and any person who makes a bomb threat who is 15 years of age or older faces up to 10 years in prison,&uot; said Ferguson. &uot;If the individual is 14 or under, they would be in the juvenile system and they would subject to being committed to the Department of Youth and Family Services with the court deciding the appropriate punishment.&uot;

No arrests had been made as of Friday night.

On Friday – the busiest day the courthouse has seen this year to date – many people waiting outside were frustrated by the delays caused by the bomb threat. Most spent the hour grumbling about having to stand around in the rain, missing work or other more interesting things.

&uot;I came down here to file separation papers on my husband who’s abandoned me and our sons,&uot; said one frustrated woman. &uot;I just know he made that call because he’s really, really mad at me!&uot;

Defense Attorney H. Woodrow Crook was also a little put out about being out on the street.

&uot;I had to wait all morning for my case to come up, and now I have to wait out here in the line.&uot;

A Virginia Beach woman was in traffic court when she joined the mass exodus out of the building.

&uot;The deputy came in and whispered to the judge and the deputy asked us to leave the building,&uot; said Beth Jordan. &uot;I was pleasantly surprised because there was no panic at all. Everyone walked out calmly without incident.&uot;

Across the street from the courts building, Soloman Lewis and Kim Burke waited impatiently to return to the courtroom.

&uot;I was scared to death and my car is parked right in front of the courthouse,&uot; Burke said. &uot;I can’t get away because police have the streets blocked.&uot;

At least one woman, Fornesia Robinson, was angry. She had her 4-year-old daughter with her and they also waited in the rain.

&uot;This was a crazy thing for someone to do,&uot; said Robinson as she tried to wrap her coat around her daughter. &uot;I’ve never been through anything like this and my child has been frightened to death.

&uot;She was all right until we got into the stairwell and all the people were rushing out… we were in this crush of people and she was afraid I would drop her.&uot;

Nearby, a woman was on the sidewalk speaking to her boss by cell phone, concerned that he wouldn’t believe that court was taking longer than expected &uot;because of a bomb.&uot;

Anyone who knows anything about who the caller may have been in Friday’s bomb threat is asked to call Suffolk police at 923-2350, or call Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP. Callers to Crime Line never give their names but instead, remain anonymous and they never testify in court. If a caller’s information leads to an arrest, the caller is eligible for up to $1,000 from Crime Line.