WILKES-BARRE — A series of calls to 911 in Lackawanna County led to the evacuation of the county courthouses in Luzerne and Monroe counties on Monday, prompting massive emergency responses and a day of chaos for hundreds.
In Wilkes-Barre, police cleared the Luzerne County Courthouse and two associated buildings after the bomb threat was received at around 9 a.m. via Lackawanna County 911, Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri said.
No devices were found, but the courthouse, annex and domestic relations building were closed for the remainder of the day. County workers have been instructed to report to work as normal tomorrow, Pedri said.
In Stroudsburg, the Monroe County courthouse also was shut down and searched, as were district judges’ offices throughout that county, the Pocono Record reported.
A criminal investigation is now in the hands of the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, Pedri said, adding Monday that it was unknown whether there was a link to the incident in Monroe County.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis did not have any updates other than to say the investigation is ongoing.
According to Monroe County officials, the call there also came in from Lackawanna County.
“Lackawanna County had gotten a call from someone using an electronically synthesized voice on a dead phone for which the number can’t be traced,” Monroe County Sheriff Todd Martin told the Pocono Record.
“The caller told Lackawanna County that judges in Monroe aren’t following state sentencing guidelines and that a bomb was set to go off at noon in Monroe, but the caller didn’t say exactly where in Monroe. There was no specific building or other location identified as a target,” Martin told the Stroudsburg-based newspaper.
“Shortly afterward, the same caller again contacted Lackawanna County and said a pipe bomb was at the Luzerne County courthouse,” Martin added.
Wilkes-Barre firefighters and police officials responded to the scene in Luzerne County, as did the Pittston City Police, the Luzerne County Sheriff’s Department and state Capitol Police, Pedri said. Pennsylvania State Police flew a dog in via a helicopter, which landed in Kirby Park on Market Street.
“This has been a coordination of effort; we had a true command center,” Pedri said. “We reviewed everything; at the very least, for the citizens of Luzerne County, they should know that we coordinated the efforts of numerous municipalities in this, and we all worked together and were able to truly accomplish something here.”
Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney also lauded the effort, saying the swiftness with which county employees and civilians were evacuated exemplified the need for emergency preparedness.
Impact on operations
Luzerne County Court Administrator Michael Shucosky said dozens of court proceedings had to be postponed and must be rescheduled due to Monday’s incident, which inconveniences legal counsel and others involved in these cases and eats up additional time and money.
While the courthouse remained closed for the rest of Monday, Pedri said a 5:30 p.m. meeting of the Authorities, Board and Commissions Committee, which will be interviewing applicants for committee seats, would take place in the building as scheduled.
While the investigation continued, traffic was snarled throughout much of downtown and north Wilkes-Barre as police closed off River and North streets as a safety precaution. Other small side streets that connected with River and North streets were also closed.
All emergency filings, including those for protection from abuse orders, were handled at the county’s Penn Place building downtown while the courthouse was closed. Central Court and the Luzerne County Correctional Facility were also operating as normal.
King’s College opened its doors to those displaced by the evacuation, offering a place to wait for the all-clear for county employees and others who evacuated the building and left their car keys and purses behind.
In another bit of generosity from people at King’s, Pedri said two gentlemen who were students at the university purchased 50 sandwiches from the on-campus Chick-fil-a and offered them to officers who were on scene. Pedri said he did not get their names, but he gave them his card and is hoping they get in contact with him.
Staff writers Ed Lewis and Jennifer Learn-Andes contributed to this report.