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Santa Fe police investigate bomb threats amid national wave of scares

December 14, 2018

Northern New Mexico became snared in a national bomb scare hoax Thursday that prompted Blue Bus shutdowns from Santa Fe to Taos and evacuations of several businesses around the city, including at the Target store on Zafarano Drive.

A wave of phony email threats demanding payment by Bitcoin — all of which were unfounded — plagued police departments around the country, sparking investigations on college campuses and at hundreds of businesses, hospitals, and other facilities in cities from New York to San Francisco and Seattle to Miami, shutting down streets and prompting building investigations.

Businesses in some cities in Canada also received threats, according to CNN.

In Washington D.C., most of the bomb threats hit between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., the Washington Post reported.

With time zones taken into account, the New Mexico threats happened a little earlier.

A spokesman with the North Central Regional Transit District, which operates the Blue Bus system, said a threat to the transit district came by phone.

Jim Nagle told the Taos News that an unidentified man had called the transit district’s dispatch center around 11 a.m. Thursday to report that a bomb would detonate at 11:20 a.m. on either the No. 200 Santa Fe bus, the No. 300 bus or No. 400 in Los Alamos.

While no explosion occurred, the buses were evacuated and law enforcement bomb squads investigated them, determining the threat was not credible.

Still, Nagle said, the 200 Santa Fe and 300 Taos midday buses were canceled for the day, while other bus routes were halted temporarily.

Santa Fe police Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said the local force responded to three bomb threats that were reported to the Regional Emergency Communications Center during the lunch hour.

At 11:40 a.m., a store employee at Overland Sheepskin Co. on the Plaza called to report a bomb threat emailed to the store.

Less than 10 minutes later, a call came from Target: The store received a bomb threat, too.

A report of the final bomb threat, around 12:19 p.m., came from an employee at an office building on Old Pecos Trail, Valdez said.

Santa Fe police officers and bomb technicians, as well as bomb techs from New Mexico State Police, evacuated and searched the buildings, Valdez said, but found no explosive devices.

John Otis, who was working at Overland when the bomb threat came into the store, said the shop got the same generic email he’d seen on national news. The email didn’t mention Overland by name, he said, but demanded $20,000 in Bitcoins.

“It was a bomb threat, so you’ve got to take it seriously,” Otis said. But from the start, some things seemed off.

For instance, he said, whoever sent the email used an apostrophe in their demand instead of the typical comma, asking for “$20’000.”

Police evacuated Overland, Otis said, and employees were let back into the store around 2:45 p.m.

“You know, I’ve got to say, Santa Fe police were on it,” Otis said. “They arrived promptly, very professionally. That’s actually what stuck out the most.”

Asked if he expected the threats to continue, Valdez said the department “has no information to support that this same threat will continue.”

However, he added, “the possibility always remains that individuals may engage in similar conduct, making similar threats.”

Police are investigating the bomb threats, Valdez said, and plan to work with local and national law enforcement agencies to find the culprits behind them.

In the meantime, Valdez said, the department recommends people to abide by the age-old adage: “If you see something, say something.”

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