The Erie County Bomb Squad said a man was “trying to scare somebody” when he walked into an Armed Forces Recruiting Center on Tuesday morning. He succeeded.
A section of Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda was closed for 4½ hours after the man made threats, threw a suitcase at an employee and fled on foot.
The suitcase contained wires and other materials that would resemble a bomb to the untrained eye.
The man was quickly captured by police. After an exhaustive search that included a robot and bomb-sniffing dogs, nothing dangerous was found in the suitcase or the man’s car, which he left behind.
The man, whose name has not yet been released, was taken to Erie County Medical Center for a psychiatric evaluation. The black Mazda he drove is registered in North Tonawanda.
The building, at 2820 Sheridan Drive, was evacuated, and traffic was diverted, starting at about 8:35 a.m.
“He had walked into the building and just was making illogical statements, talking in a nonsensical way,” said Capt. Joe Carosi, spokesman for the Town of Tonawanda Police Department. “They were saying, ‘Can we help you? What can we do for you?’ And he just would make a statement that had nothing to do with what they were asking him … These are military men who have been around the block, and their flags went up on this guy.”
The officers called town police. The man then threw his suitcase at a Marine recruiter and made a threat, “some kind of remark about the bag,” according to Carosi. None of the officers at the station knew the man.
A robot was brought in to investigate the car. It then went into the building and emerged with the suitcase. The bag was left in the parking lot, and the robot was withdrawn. It then returned to conduct what appeared to be an X-ray scan of the suitcase before opening it.
Bomb officers inspected the car, and bomb-sniffing dogs were deployed to the building to help collect evidence.
The affected stretch of the busy road, between Eggert Road and Parkhurst Boulevard, was blocked off in both directions until 1 p.m.
People were asked to stay inside, and nearby shops were asked to keep their doors closed.
The FBI has been in contact with Town of Tonawanda police, according to Carosi, meaning there is a possibility federal charges could be filed, though the man does not yet face any charges.
“We’re leaving all options open as far as any charges go,” Carosi said. “Nothing has been determined as of yet.”
Carosi said he couldn’t recall anything like this happening in his 25 years with the Tonawanda police.
“It’s really a testament to the times we live in and how we’re all more cautious,” he said.
“Twenty-five years ago, somebody might’ve just walked up and opened the bag to see what was in it. You can’t get away with that anymore, and rightfully so.”
The Armed Forces Recruiting Center includes branches for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.