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Athena Altera

Geocacher Looked Too Suspicious

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From the Munice (Indiana) Star Press on Friday, October 29:


Geocachers say police overreacted at Tin Lizzy




HARTFORD CITY - The Star Press received several e-mails from geocaching game players around the country condemning the police for overreacting to the Tin Lizzy bomb scare on Tuesday.


The game is like an on-line scavenger hunt, in which someone hides a box somewhere, and then places the global positioning system coordinates on the Web site at www.geocaching.com so other players can go looking for it.


"It appears to me that the police involved in this incident were overblowing the matter," said Judy Starbuck of Topeka, Ind., "but in your article that was avoided quite nicely."


The people most affected by the potential danger, those who lost several hours of pay because their shops were closed and those who felt threatened seem to feel the law enforcement officials "did all of the right things."


The employees had even been warned by an FBI agent about two months ago to be cautious about strangers lurking around the mini-storage facilities located on the property.


"We did exactly what we are trained to do," said Blackford County Sheriff Kevin Mahan. "Calling the bomb squad was normal procedure. I don't know what people expect us to do. We have spouses, kids, beating hearts just like anybody else. We'd like to get home after work. We don't want to make a mountain out of a mole hill, but certainly we'd like to get home.


"Is there anybody that can give me a hundred percent guarantee that in this case there wasn't an explosive in that box?" he asked. "The answer is no."


Police received a call at 2:12 p.m. on Tuesday saying a stranger had been seen placing a suspicious-looking box under a mock-up train on display at the Tin Lizzy, an ice cream shop about seven miles north of Hartford City at the intersection of Ind. 3 and Ind. 18, according to Mahan.


Emergency responders were dispatched immediately, and a call went out to the Delaware County Bomb Squad.


Employees and customers of the Tin Lizzy, the Covered Bridge Gallery and Dacra Glass were evacuated.


After three nervous hours, and after a bomb squad member fired a 50-caliber round into the suspicious black box, police declared the area safe again.


Apparently shop owner Craig Heavenridge gave an unidentified "hider" permission to stash a cache on the grounds for others to find. But the word did not get to his employees, and Heavenridge was enroute to Florida on Tuesday.


Nita Knox, a Tin Lizzy employee, said she "saw somebody strange put a box under there. We decided we'd better call the police because we didn't know what it was.


"The police did not overreact," she said. "I think the police did the right thing. They got everybody out of harm's way. Better to be safe than sorry."


Police had a description of a vehicle driven by a person who was last seen near a caboose and an engine on display behind the restaurant and stopped the car when it passed by the location while police were there.


The driver, David Cook, told police he had been at the train to find the box, take an item from it and sign a guest book inside.


Starbuck also said she was disappointed that police did not take Cook up on his offer to retrieve the box and open it to show that it was safe.


But Mahan said police didn't know who Cook was or anything about him.


He also said that is not against the game, but that players have a responsibility to not alarm others.


"I am all for people having fun and games," he said. "I've got my hobbies and interests; we all do. I don't want to see America shut down. But we're talking about post 911 and under the current situation, anyone who partakes in a game that involves putting a black box in suspicious locations for people to see, is going to get reported and police are going to respond.


"I'm sure they are good law-abiding citizens that mean no harm to anybody.


"And this is a fun game. This isn't an attack on them personally.


"If someone happens to come sneaking around their home or trying to not be noticed I would think they are going to contact 911 and expect the police to show up," he said.


Michelle Cowgill, the Tin Lizzy's manager, said an FBI agent came into the shop about two months ago.


"I even called to make sure who he was," she said. "He warned us about the mini-storage facilities and told us to watch for suspicious people. To me a strange person hiding black boxes is suspicious.


"You just don't know," she said, "a vendetta, a disgruntled customer, a former employee going nutso. You never know."


"If I see another box out there next week, I'm calling the police again," Knox said.


Contact Jay and Blackford county reporter Ric Routledge at (765) 728-5241.

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The incident is already being discussed here, so I am closing this duplicate thread.

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