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2012-11-08

Bizarre threats flummox county

By Judith Pannebaker & Carolyn B. Edwards

A convoluted set of curious circumstances - that have yet to be completely unraveled - led to the evacuation of three county buildings the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 2. And the bizarre occurrences continued the next day.
According to a report from Capt. Shane Merritt of the Bandera County Sheriff's Office, at 3:45 pm on Friday, an administrative assistant at the courthouse received what has been referred to as a "threatening phone call."
Referencing a woman he had made contact with in an Internet chat room, the as-yet unidentified caller said the woman had "offended and disrespected" him during the conversation. Since the caller believed the woman lived in Bandera, the man said he wanted her identified and prosecuted "or he would take action against Bandera County."
The caller indicated "the action" he intended to take included blowing up the courthouse and killing unidentified county elected officials. Although the caller also made veiled references to "the schools," he did not state that explosives had been placed at specific locations. Instead, the caller again insisted that unless the woman who had offended him was prosecuted, he would "take action."
After the caller disconnected, BCSO Deputy Grady Newton, who is assigned to the courthouse, reported the incident to the sheriff's office. A few minutes later, the caller phoned the county attorney's office, continuing the same general conversation. During this call, he again threatened the courthouse and county elected officials, but made no further reference to local schools.
Responding to the second call, a deputy explained that it would take time to identify and track the woman who had so offended the caller. After a prolonged conversation, the caller concurred and agreed to contact the sheriff's department the following week for a progress update.
While law enforcement officers and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation attempted to trace the call, County Judge Richard Evans ordered the evacuation of the courthouse, county attorney's office and the Ray Mauer Annex on 12th Street, which disrupted early voting at the courthouse annex.
Armed with AR-15s, officers with the BCSO Special Response Unit were dispatched to the city to assist with the evacuations.
At this time, a parenthetical incident occurred when two men in their late 20s driving down Hackberry Street made a threatening gesture to a deputy on the courthouse lawn. "During this time of heightened alert, one of the men made a clear shooting gesture," stated City Marshal Charlie Hicks. Chief Deputy Marshal Scott MacNaughton detained the men after they stopped their vehicle in front of a business on Main Street. Both men were handcuffed while their vehicle was searched for possible firearms.
Later, after being released from custody, the man explained his threatening gesture, saying, "We thought (the deputies) were doing training at the courthouse."
On Saturday, Nov. 3, Election Administrator Toba Perez-Wright reopened the courthouse annex for early voting from 10 am until noon to accommodate voters unable to cast their ballots the previous day due to the evacuation. "We had 27 voters come in," said Perez-Wright.
However, not content to disrupt county business on Friday, the same caller contacted the sheriff's department Saturday, Nov. 3, demanding that all Bandera County inmates incarcerated at the jail on Highway 173 North be released. Should law enforcement authorities fail to comply with his demand, the caller again threatened to kill an unidentified county official. He did not, at that time, make untoward references to county facilities or schools. "I talked to him for about two hours on Saturday," Merritt said. "The main thing was that he was angry because the woman had disrespected him."
In fact, after the prolonged conversation, the caller retracted his previous threats, while at the same time, claiming responsibility for similar ones made recently "all over the United States." In fact the caller described the previous threats, including the ones made in Bandera, as "hoaxes."
Adding another bizarre turn to the saga, at 4:40 pm, the caller phoned the sheriff's department again, this time requesting to speak to an emergency dispatcher he had made contact with on previous calls. Expressing a desire just "to talk," the caller made no further threats or demands during the ensuing conversation.
Administrators with Bandera Independent School District have also issued a statement about the incident. "Bandera law enforcement contacted the school administration in the late evening on Friday to assure us that they did not believe there to be any viable threat to our schools or our students," said a short press release. Citing "media attention" about the situation, the release was aimed at "keeping parents updated on safety (issues)."
The release continued, "Bandera ISD takes the safety of its students and staff as its highest priority. Routine safety procedures at every campus are in place to protect the well being of all students at all times. Administration and faculty remain vigilant to any situation that might endanger students." Parents with questions or concerns were urged to contact campus administrators at Bandera ISD schools.
"The Bandera County Sheriff's Office is working with the FBI to track and identify this caller," said Merritt. "However, we believe there is no viable threat at this time to Bandera County facilities or elected officials. The investigation remains ongoing."