The federal building in downtown Asheville was evacuated around noon today, June 21, due to a suspicious package with a “cryptic note” directed at federal law enforcement agencies. Asheville Police Department officers blew the package apart with high-powered water and a blank round. The APD has arrested Ernest McDonald, 66, in connection to the hoax.
Initiall, APD representatives would not identify the suspect. At 6:06 p.m. Tuesday evening, June 21, they announced the arrest of McDonald, who was charged him with perpetrating a hoax “by use of a false bomb or other device.” McDonald, whom the APD claims had sent notes to a number of banks in the area, is currently in the Buncombe County jail under a $20,000 bond.
The package was a paper bag with clothes and “components of a possible device,” placed beside a column near the building’s back door. After APD officers arrived and were briefed by U.S. Marshals and building security, they blocked off surrounding streets. At first the building was under a voluntary evacuation, though all employees were later told to leave, according to evacuees at the scene.
Just after noon, the bomb squad used a disruptor — a “glorified shotgun” consisting of high-pressure water and a blank round, Welch explained — to blow the package apart, after an X-ray of the package failed to rule out that it might contain explosives. The sound resembled a detonation. Shortly afterwards the streets were re-opened and employees re-entered the building.
“We’ve actually seen a similar note from an individual doing this around downtown. This one was a little more directed,” Welch told Xpress. “He’s done similar acts downtown, and this one has risen to the level of a hoax device. Once we’ve located and interviewed him, we’ll move forward with charges.”
APD Lt. Wally Welch talks to press.
The note was directed at federal law enforcement agencies, and both the FBI and ATF have offices in the building. The APD has notified both organizations, which will conduct their own investigations, said Welch. Federal charges may be forthcoming.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter
Photos by Jonathan Welch