It started as an ordinary Monday.
Judges, clerks and county officials were gearing up for another work week at the Luzerne County Courthouse on North River Street in Wilkes-Barre and surrounding buildings, while members of the public began arriving for judicial proceedings and other business.
The mood suddenly changed. Security personnel responsible for ensuring hundreds of visitors enter and use the courthouse, annex and domestic relations building safely each day had to throw the process into reverse, evacuating staff and visitors following a bomb threat.
To the credit of all on scene, the evacuation proceeded quickly, safely and efficiently, with no reported injuries. In the end, no bomb was found.
People shepherded outside following the incident were kept informed by county staff with bullhorns, who told them how long the closure would last (it eventually turned out to be an all-day affair) and where they would be directed next — critical for those who were stranded because they could not get to their personal items or cars.
King’s College opened its doors, offering a place to wait for those who had left their car keys and purses behind.
Times Leader employees witnessed the process firsthand, as we were among those at the courthouse on May 7 — first to cover normal business, then to cover the developing bomb threat, with one reporter being unable to get back to his own car for several hours.
We have nothing but praise for the way in which county officials and law enforcement professionals handled the situation, not to mention the generosity of King’s College.
Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri, Wilkes-Barre Police Commander Joseph Coffay and Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney spoke with the media early in the process so that we all could inform the community what was happening. That was critical, as the search resulted in street closures and other disruptions for hundreds of people beyond those affiliated with the courthouse.
The buildings and grounds were thoroughly searched by bomb-sniffing K-9s. Multiple agencies participated in the operation, including Pennsylvania State Police, Pittston City Police, the Luzerne County Sheriff’s Department and state Capitol Police. Wilkes-Barre Police Chief Marcella Lendacky was at the scene with members of her department, as was county Sheriff Brian M. Szumski.
Pedri, meanwhile, communicated with media throughout the day, letting us know once the building was safely cleared that staffers would be allowed to return the following day.
Things went well, but Pedri and his staff also realized that they could have been better.
In light of the threat and previous building closures, Pedri announced the same week he was setting up an employee emergency notification system through Swift911 — technology the county has had access to since 2016, but had yet to use in this way.
If there is a silver lining to the debacle, it is that we saw some of our community’s most important public officials at their best.
The dark cloud on the horizon is that unknown person or persons whose anonymous 911 calls forced evacuations here and at the Monroe County Courthouse in Stroudsburg that morning. Whatever their apparent grievance with the criminal justice system, responding by creating fear, inconvenience and possible danger for hundreds of other people who had to be evacuated was cowardly and selfish.
May investigators find them and bring them to justice.