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Bomb squad disables suspicious package outside Circuit Court

By Gregg Kakesako & Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 5:52 p.m. HST, Apr 25, 2013

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Photo Gallery: Circuit Court bomb scare

The Honolulu police bomb squad "rendered safe" a suspicious package, which was later found to be harmless, outside Circuit Court near Punchbowl and Halekauwila streets this morning, authorities said.

The bomb scare, which came after someone called 911 and said there was a bomb in the area that would go off at noon, led to the evacuation of nearby buildings and the closure of area roads for hours.

The Honolulu Police Department's special service division bomb squad used a "water cannon" at 9:50 a.m. to disable the package, a public safety spokeswoman said.

Police from the special services department "rendered the package safe at the scene," she said. An explosion was heard shortly after the bomb squad arrived and a source told the Star-Advertiser that the sound from a water cannon is similar to a flash-bang grenade.

Circuit Court employees were allowed back into the building at noon. The court's afternoon calendar was scheduled to resume at 1 p.m.

The Federal Building, across Punchbowl street from Circuit Court, was not evacuated during the bomb scare. However, all federal court business scheduled Thursday was postponed, an official with the Marshals Service said. Court activity will resume Friday.

State Sheriff Shawn Tsuha said no explosive material was found in the package and that it never posed any danger.

He said officials exercised an abundance of caution after a 911 caller described a package that matched the package later found. The package was described as a foot long and 8 inches wide and was encased in a plastic bag.

Toni Schwartz, state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said the police received the call at 6:05 a.m. that a bomb had been planted near the Circuit Court building and was set to explode at noon. The package was discovered at 6:30 a.m. The Sheriff Division's K9 team was dispatched to Circuit Court 10 minutes after the bomb threat was reported, Schwartz said.

A source familiar with the investigation told the Star-Advertiser that the package, which was on the Ewa side of the Circuit Court building, contained plant fertilizer and a galvanized pipe, but no triggering device.

By about 10:45 a.m., police had reopened sidewalks and all roads in the area.

Tsuha said officials swept Circuit Court building, which reopened about 1 p.m.

At the start of the incident, police and Sheriff Division officers began isolating the area around the Circuit Court and notifying neighboring businesses and schools. Police closed Halekauwila Street between Punchbowl and South streets as well as Punchbowl between Queen and Pohukaina streets.

Besides the Circuit Court building, the state departments of labor and taxation also were affected. Both the tax and labor departments are housed at 830 Punchbowl St., which was evacuated.

Circuit Court employees who reported early to work were told to "shelter in place" away from the potential blast area. Judges, attorneys and employees who arrived later were not allowed into the court building.

Court sessions normally begin at 8:30 a.m. All employees and those involved in cases scheduled for Thursday afternoon were told to return at 1 p.m. to receive further instructions.

This morning's court cases would be rescheduled, said Marsha Kitagawa, judiciary spokeswoman.

Three eastbound bus lines also were affected and re-routed during the road shutdown. Roger Morton, president of Oahu Transit Services, said it was just "a minor detour" for the buses which normally turn on King Street to Punchbowl Street heading to Waikiki.

Although some people are inconvenienced by the ongoing investigation, they seem to be taking the events in stride.

"You've got to take this seriously," said Philip Gritman, 31, who was planning to attend drug court this morning.

"We were pretty much prepared," said court clerk Janis Shiroma. She said the staff was well trained on how to respond in such situations. Police asked the public to avoid the area and use alternate routes.

Voyager School at 547 Halekauwila St. was evacuated by police.

Because of the road closures many state employees at the Department of Transportation and attorney general had a hard time getting to work.

Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, state Department of Defense spokesman, said there was no change in Hawaii's security status during the Circuit Court incident.


Star-Advertiser reporter Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this report.

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