By Crispin Havener
INDIANA — Borough police closed a section of the main street in the downtown business district for several hours Tuesday after a gift-wrapped package was spotted on the sidewalk in front of the Indiana County Courthouse.
Police also called in the Allegheny County bomb squad to investigate what police called a “suspicious” box shortly after 10 a.m. Borough police closed off Philadelphia Street between Eighth and Ninth streets for more than four hours at midday.
By early afternoon, a bomb-squad officer reported the gaily wrapped box the size of a chocolate sampler contained kids’ erasers and toys.
Police said the package looked out-of-place where it sat, a stone’s throw from the courthouse statue of the town’s famous native son, the late actor Jimmy Stewart.
“Being a government building during business hours, it was suspicious to us,” borough police Sgt. Anthony Clement said Tuesday afternoon. “The package is wrapped in Christmas paper, which made it more suspicious, being the end of March.”
Clement said police could not find anyone in the courthouse who knew anything about the package. That’s when they called the bomb squad.
“Although we considered it a low risk, we wanted to err on the side of caution,” Clement said.
Police routed traffic around the block, which was draped in yellow police tape that flapped in a brisk breeze under bright blue sky. News crews from Pittsburgh and Johnstown network TV affiliates did standups on the sidewalk on the Eighth Street side of the court building. Helicopters roared overhead.
Except for detoured motorists, it was business as usual in the 800 block of Philadelphia Street during the investigation. People came and went through the front door of the courthouse. Some passersby appeared to be curious.
As bystanders watched, a bomb squad member wearing a thickly padded black suit approached the box, then withdrew. He returned about 20 minutes later to pick up the box and open the wrapper on the sidewalk.
The bomb squad and local police carried the package to a bomb-squad vehicle behind the courthouse, where it was handed over to borough police dressed in regular uniforms.
Police do not know who the package belonged to, Clement said. A name was hand-written on it, but it was illegible.
Police removed the yellow tape and reopened Philadelphia Street to traffic around 2:30 p.m.
Crispin Havener, a senior Communications Media major and journalism minor, is from Johnstown.