3 bomb scares in weeks: ‘We have to take these things seriously’

A suspicious package attached to a parked car outside two restaurants at the Dayton Mall was removed by a robot Monday night as customers of the eateries were kept from their vehicles for hours.

The questionable package reported outside Bravo Cucina Italiana and the Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern prompted a nearly five-hour investigation, the third high-profile such incident involving the Dayton Bomb Squad in a month.

No explosives were found in any of the three cases, but packages are the most common suspicious item reported, federal data shows. And Ohio ranks among the top five in reported bomb threats, according to a Department of Justice report.

“We have to take these things seriously,” Miami Twp. Capt. John Magill said. “If you saw the device, you would understand. It was something that we had to take seriously. And then we contain that, and we call in people who have expert knowledge about these things.”

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Meanwhile, bomb squad members “strongly encourage the public to report any suspicious situation.”

Police have a person of interest, but no arrests have been made, according to the township. Magill declined to reveal the contents of the package or how it was attached to the car, which he said was registered locally.

A couple called for help upon returning to their car and noticed what appeared to be a black container that was attached to the driver’s side door handle, according to the township.

“It wasn’t just laying on the ground,” Magill said of the container. “It wasn’t just sitting in a corner or abandoned in an alley way.”

Officers cordoned off the parking lot and stopped traffic from entering and exiting that area of the mall. Patrons of Bravo and neighboring businesses were ordered to stay inside and were moved to the rear of their respective locations for their safety, according to the township.

“Until we knew exactly what we were dealing with, we used the utmost caution,” Miami Twp. Police Chief Ron Hess said in a statement issued Tuesday. “The safety of everyone in the area was and is our top priority.”

It was unclear how long people were kept from their vehicles. One Bravo customer said police kept him from his car for at least two hours.

Aside from the bomb squad, several Miami Twp. police crews responded, as did Dayton airport K-9 unit and Miamisburg police, Magill said.

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The package was reported about 7:30 p.m. and the scene was not cleared until about 1:20 a.m. Tuesday, Magill said.

The bomb squad also investigated reports of two reports of suspicious packages on consecutive days last month.

On Nov. 26, the evacuation of the downtown Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority hub disrupted travel for several hours due to a suspicious package.

Officials responded to South Jefferson Street, near the RTA hub, about 8:30 a.m. The suspicious package, described by police as a suitcase, was located in a parking garage adjacent to the RTA hub, according to a statement from RTA.

The hub reopened by about 11:15 a.m.

The next day, a suspicious package found outside the federal building in downtown Dayton. Security personnel found the package that had been dropped off at the front doors.

The package contained “no overt threats,” Dayton police Lt. Jason Hall said.

“Suspicious circumstances presented in all three of these cases, and citizens/first responders determined these items warranted further examination,” according to an email from the Dayton Bomb Squad. “It is a great relief that most of these incidents are discovered to be non-hazardous, but each has to be treated as life-threatening until proven otherwise.

“We strongly encourage the public to report any suspicious situation they encounter so it can be properly evaluated,” the DPD said in the email.

The number of reported suspicious packages has increased in recent years, climbing from 2,785 in 2012 to 4,763 in 2015 according to the DOJ.

The states that had the highest number of reported bomb threats in 2015 were Illinois, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania, data shows.

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