Morning bomb threat clears Palmer Square
The police issued an all clear around 1:30 p.m. after 13 police K-9 units conducted a four-hour search but found nothing, Borough Police Chief David Dudeck said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
In response to the threat, police evacuated shops, offices and condominiums near Palmer Square. Paul Robeson Place and Hulfish Street were closed off by officers, yellow police tape and barricades.
A couple hundred people were displaced, said David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management. Traffic on Nassau Street was tied up for much of the day, and Borough police officers directed heavy traffic at several intersections.
Police investigators are following several leads to determine who called in the bomb threat.
In the call, an unidentified man indicated that there was a bomb in a construction site for The Residences at Palmer Square, new luxury townhomes and condominiums on Hulfish Street.
The police determined that the threat was credible because of its specificity, Dudeck said. “It would be someone that would have to know exactly what is happening at that area,” he said.
Officers responded to the scene immediately and began to assess the site. A construction worker said he was evacuated around 7:30 a.m.
Dan Scheid and his wife are the only people currently living in the new condominiums. Scheid said he received a call from Palmer Square Management around 8 a.m. “[They] told us there was a threat, and that we would have to evacuate,” he said as he waited outside the condominium complex.
K-9 units and the New Jersey State Police bomb squad were called in from across the state and began staging at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot behind the YMCA building.
K-9 units swept “every nook and cranny of the construction site,” Dudeck said. One dog detected chemicals in a carpenter’s toolbox around 11:30 a.m. The K-9 units then left the site, and bomb squad officers inspected the toolbox, but found nothing suspicious.
As a chorus of dog barking echoed across a nearby empty playground, officers wearing bulletproof vests gathered around black sport utility vehicles to plan the next phase of the search. Around 12:30 p.m., the officers and dogs made the short walk back to the site. Finding nothing, police issued an all clear at 1:30 p.m.
Borough police detectives, in consultation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are now trying to determine the identity of the caller. An initial trace on the phone call proved unsuccessful, but detectives are still trying to determine its origin, Dudeck said.
When asked whether phone or computer companies are aiding in the investigation, Dudeck said that “everyone has been absolutely cooperative,” declining to provide additional details. An FBI spokesperson in Newark did not have specific knowledge of the case or FBI involvement.
No threats had been made to the construction site before, Dudeck noted. The property’s sales agent, Jay Goldberg of Stasse and Company, did not respond to a request for comment.
K-9 units came from the state police, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, and the police departments of Lawrence, West Windsor, Bordentown, and Medford.
An alert was posted on the University homepage at 10:53 a.m. and updated when the all clear was issued. Borough police were in communication with the Department of Public Safety throughout the morning, University spokeswoman Emily Aronson said.
“The Borough police activity was outside of the University campus, and at no time was there a concern about safety on campus,” Aronson said in an e-mail.
This is the second bomb threat at a construction site in the Princeton area this year. In March, Public Safety received a written threat to the construction site of the now-completed new Frick Chemistry Building. In that case, Public Safety was “not able to determine [who] left the note,” Public Safety director Paul Ominsky said last month. There are no indications that the two incidents are related, Dudeck said.
In 2003, a Palmer Square office was the target of another bomb threat. A sheriff K-9 unit was called, but police determined that it was a hoax. Palmer Square was also the center of an eight-year FBI investigation into the 2001 national anthrax scare, after Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist and expert in Army biodefense, mailed anthrax-laden letters from a mailbox at 10 Nassau St. that ended up at the post office in Palmer Square.
Newton said Wednesday’s threat was an “enormous strain on resources.”
“It just sets everybody back,” he said. “It sets the construction back. It sets the people working in the offices back. And it sets the retailers back ... This act is just an act of extraordinary callousness.”