Bellingham police give all clear after destroying suspicious duffel found downtown

Bomb squad detonates suspicious bag in downtown Bellingham

Bellingham Police’s bomb squad responded to a suspicious item in downtown Bellingham, Wash., on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019.
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Bellingham Police’s bomb squad responded to a suspicious item in downtown Bellingham, Wash., on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019.

Bellingham police gave the all-clear Friday afternoon, Sept. 13, after evacuating downtown buildings, blocking off a four-block area and twice exploding a suspicious duffel bag that was found on a sidewalk along Champion Street outside the Whatcom Council of Governments.

At 3:16 p.m. the department tweeted, “Situation resolved ... all streets are opening up to normal traffic. Thank you for your patience during this investigation.”

Lt. Don Almer told The Bellingham Herald that police are still investigating what was actually inside the bag.

Plantas Nativa employee Kevin Hall told The Herald that he first noticed the bag on the sidewalk when he arrived at approximately 10 a.m. and had been watching it before opening the nursery, which is located nearby.

The first responding officer agreed that the bag was suspicious, Almer said, and the Hazardous Devices Unit was called to investigate and X-ray the bag.

“When we suspect a device, it becomes a slow process because we don’t want to put others in jeopardy,” Almer told The Herald.

At 12:16 p.m., police tweeted that the department’s bomb squad was checking on the duffel and had closed Champion Street between Forrest and State streets to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Almer said the X-ray showed the bag’s contents were “problematic,” and appeared to include wires. The images were sent to the FBI, which concurred that the images were concerning.

A follow-up tweet was posted at 1:41 p.m. saying that streets in a four-block area around where the bag was found had been closed and that buildings in the area were being evacuated.

“Buildings being evacuated as a safety precaution,” the tweet said. “The device will be disrupted in place by our Hazardous Devices Unit. We will attempt to alert right before, as it will be a very loud noise. Do not go into the red shaded area on (the) map.”

At 1:54 p.m., an emergency broadcast transmission reported, “Fire in the hole. Fire in the hole. Fire in the hole,” and the duffel was detonated.

Watch a looped video as the Bellingham Police bomb squad detonates a suspicious duffel bag for a second time on East Champion Street in downtown Bellingham, Wash., Friday, Sept. 13, 2019.

Police did another assessment of the situation, and Almer said the bomb squad was not confident the first blast had disconnected the wires well enough.

At 2:30, the department tweeted that the bag would again be detonated, saying, “Should be happening now.”

At approximately 2:50 p.m., “Fire in the hole,” was again called over emergency broadcasts.

The police then used the robot to investigate what was left, and Almer said the second blast sufficiently opened the bag that police were able to see inside and give the all-clear.

At 3:29 p.m., an emergency broadcast said that video was available of the person who had dropped the bag off.

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David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.