Bomb threat at courthouse

Photo Courtesy of M.C. Campbell
Carter County government officials, staff, visitors and firefighters stand outside the courthouse after a telephoned bomb threat forced an evacuation at 8 am Monday morning.

By Abby Morris-Frye
star staff

  Employees at the Carter County Courthouse and the Carter County Justice Center got an unexpected start to their day Monday morning after a phoned-in bomb threat to the Sheriff's Department dispatch office forced them to evacuate the two buildings, according to authorities.
  Carter County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Jeff Winters answered the 8 a.m. phone call. "They said, 'There's a bomb in the courthouse,' and hung up," Winters said. "It sounded like a female to me."
  According to CCSD Deputy Mary Miller, who works as a dispatcher, a second call also came in that she believes was related to the bomb threat. "I didn't answer the first one; Jeff Winters did," she said. "I answered the second one that came in after they cleared everybody out. I believe it was a male trying to make his voice sound like a female. He said 'Is the bomb still in the courthouse?' and hung up."
  Henson said that when the call came in, members of the CCSD, Elizabethton Police Department and Elizabethton Fire Department reacted quickly. "It was a female caller that advised there was a bomb in the courthouse but didn't say which courthouse," Henson said. "They never said which courthouse so we had to check both of them. We evacuated both buildings until a search could be made and no bombs were found."
  Henson said the searches took approximately 30-45 minutes per building. Both the Carter County Courthouse and the Justice Center -- which houses the Sheriff's Department, Carter County Jail, two courtrooms, two judges chambers and the Circuit and General Sessions clerks offices -- were evacuated and searched.
  "The jail was never mentioned, but we did a check of the jail anyway," Henson said.
  Henson said an investigation into the bomb threat is under way. "We have some leads on where the call came from and we are investigating to see if we can find exactly where the call came from," he said.
  Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Ernest Jackson said that he had not made it into the building yet when the courthouse was evacuated. "As I was pulling in, I heard all the traffic on the (police) radio so I knew something was going on," he said. "It made for a very interesting Monday morning. It certainly wasn't a typical Monday."
  Jackson said courthouse employees remained calm and did not panic when they were asked to evacuate.
  He also said that he and other individuals at the courthouse were nervous following the threat until police and fire officials cleared the building. "It was a little bit of anxiety wondering what was going on," he said. "We were just glad that nothing was found and no one was hurt.
  "It is a serious thing and I hope law enforcement can find ever who was responsible."
  Jackson said the threat shows that terrorism is a very real and potential danger to the county. He said that while the county and nation need to be prepared for acts of international terrorism, the county must also be prepared for domestic terrorism.