By Natalie Johnsonfirstname.lastname@example.org
An unfortunately-designed time capsule mistaken for a pipe bomb delayed Christmas celebrations in Winlock Saturday as local police and fire crews, a bomb squad and federal agents descended upon the south Lewis County community, prepared for the worst.
“The first bomb agent went over with his Kevlar vest and said … this looks like the real deal,” said Sgt. Randy Pennington, of the Toledo Police Department.
Pennington, who has more than 30 years experience in law enforcement, was the first officer to respond after being contacted by fire crews at about 3:45 p.m. Saturday.
What he saw prompted him to contact the Washington State Patrol’s Explosives Unit.
“Underneath the egg where it’s supported by the platform and the pole there’s a hole,” he said. “Protruding out of the hole was a capped pipe … and there appeared to be electrical wires coming from it.”
Pennington took a picture of the object and couldn’t find any identifying labels or marks. He and fire crews set up an “exclusion zone” blocking all roads leading to the egg.
He said decades ago police might not have taken the incident seriously, but given the widespread threat of terrorism today, he said he feels he made the right decision to treat the incident as a legitimate bomb threat.
“There was no other choice,” he said.
Because the bomb scare took place at the same time as a scheduled community event, the bomb unit also notified the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which also responded.
Pennington also notified dispatch, which contacted the Burlington Northern Railroad, which then stopped trains heading through the area and sent its own police officers.
Explosives unit members donned bomb-proof suits and retrieved the object from the egg, Pennington said, before using special equipment to open it.
They were surprised by the lightness of the object. Improvised bombs are typically heavy due to being loaded with shrapnel, Pennington said.
“They remotely breached it with a device. Everybody had to take cover behind the vehicles,” Pennington said.
When they opened the pipe, instead of shrapnel and explosives, they found pictures and other objects.
“Lo and behold it was a time capsule of some sort,” he said. “It looked like maybe it was wired to something inside the egg … the wire corroded and it fell.”
Pennington said he took custody of the items and is attempting to return the capsule to its rightful owner. He said it appears the items date to 1991.
“That fits with the time they redid the egg,” he said.
Organizers said the Christmas tree lighting event will be rescheduled to 6 p.m. Thursday night.
Pennington said most people in Winlock understood why first responders took the threat as seriously as they did.
“There are some jokes,” he said. “It’s just somebody trying to scramble the egg.”