Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Police: Evacuations Lifted, 'Suspicious Packages' At Union-Tribune Deemed Abandoned Property

A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.
Susan Murphy
A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.

UPDATE: 10:45 a.m., Oct. 24, 2018

Police: Evacuations Lifted, 'Suspicious Packages' At Union-Tribune Deemed Abandoned Property
Police: Evacuations Lifted, 'Suspicious Packages' At Union-Tribune Deemed Abandoned Property GUEST: Darrell Foxworth, retired San Diego FBI agent

Our top story on Midday edition the discovery of suspicious packages is topping the news today. In addition to the suspicious packages sent to Bill and Hillary Clinton Barack Obama and CNN San Diego have its own suspicious package scare this morning. Packages were found near the San Diego Union Tribune offices and that building was temporarily evacuated. San Diego police ultimately gave the old all clear saying the boxes contained a shoe a football a couple of children's books and an empty bag of potato chips. Here's Lieutenant Kevin Wadhams with the San Diego Police Department. I am aware of what is going on around the country and that did play into it but not just for today but any other day if something like this happens we do the same scenario we had the bomb squad come out and do the x rays and. Make sure everybody safe. And joining me now is retired San Diego based FBI agent and private security consultant Darrell Foxworth. Darrell welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. Is there anything we know so far about the packages sent to politicians and news agencies in New York and Washington. Well I would say that there are a number of things that we do know. We do know what the packaging looks like. We do know how it was shipped and what law enforcement and the FBI the Joint Terrorism Task Force will start doing is they'll start collecting all the information here identifying the similarities in these packages. We know that right now that a number of these packages have been sent to politicians and individuals on the East Coast. One stage of the investigation will start with looking at is there a commonality as far as the or the origin of these packages. Secondly looking at the packages there's obviously when you look at them you'll see that there is a misspelling and the return address and also to the to the addresses. So you start picking up on things like that. You also look at the package itself. It's the stamps that are used. So there's a lot of information just on the outside of the package the envelopes that are used to printed labels things like that in an investigation. It's like a mathematical equation. You always start with what you know and you work towards what you don't know. And right now law enforcement is in that position where they're out there responding to these suspicious packages in the course of responding to these suspicious packages. They're developing intelligence which is being pushed out across the country so that everyone has a baseline of knowledge as far as what is known at this time. And it's also being shared with the private private partners out there and the public just in the event that they come across a suspicious package in their mailroom. Now I will say this that this is a very very dangerous situation because you have multiple people in the distribution chain which are handling these packages and depending upon how the explosive device has been assembled it creates a danger to the overall public due to the number of people that will be handling these packages. So this is a very very dangerous situation that we're talking about. Is there anything that the public should be looking for in order to identify as a suspicious package. You want to look at the package itself. You know something. Number one are you expecting a package and if you're not expecting a package then you should have a heightened sense of awareness about that. Number two do you know the sender of the package. Sometimes people that are engaged in criminal activity like this terrorism they may use a center's name or address of someone that you do know. And what we've seen so far in this case is that the recipients of the addressees would have known or had some association with the sender of the package. The other thing you want to look at is how it's package. Is it lumpy in any way. Does it have a chemical or residue or something seeping through it. Does it have multiple stamps that are that are placed on it. So if it's something that causes you to take a second look at this then you want to treat it cautiously and let's say you know what happens if I do come across something like this. What it's at your home your place of business. The first thing you want to do is that you want to make sure that you clear the immediate area of all persons and keep them away from it. The second thing is depending upon these type of devices you want to make sure that you're not using your cellphone in the area of that device. There are some explosive devices that can be activated with the use of a cell phone. So you want to make sure that you're not using your cellphone in the location of that device. If there is something that's leaking out of it powder or chemicals you want to make sure that those parts of your body the hands which have been exposed to it that that clean that away from it. And then the other thing is that you just want to make sure that you contact law enforcement and make sure that that they are aware of it. What normally happens in cases like this is that you'll have a joint task force of federal state and local agencies that will respond they respond. From the standpoint they have the assets to get out there identify the device and they will if they can on scene they'll they'll rendered safe. If they can't rendered safe on scene then they will relocate to another location and take steps to make the device safe from there. And at this point in time what the public really needs to know what businesses need to know is that you know we have identified packages which have been in the mail distribution system whether there are other packages that have not been received by those recipients. That's yet to be seen. But we do know that we've had several packages sent to people within the last several days and it appears that all those factors from Monday through today have been received by those recipients. Now who's to say that we have other packages delivered later on in the week. And I would strongly encourage anyone that might have information concerning this to make sure that they contact law enforcement. Most likely this is a case that's going to be coordinated to the FBI terrorism task force. You have joint terrorism task forces across the country through these task forces. This information is being shared through local law enforcement agencies and partners so that they can start coordinating the investigation here. Another thing that you see happening is to the Joint Terrorism Task Force. They'll start taking look at open maybe closed cases with their law enforcement partners to see if there's any similarities or see if there's something in any open or closed cases or reports to see if there's something there that might help identify the individual or individuals or groups that could be responsible for this. Right. I've been speaking with retired San Diego based FBI agent Darrell Foxworth. Daryl thank you very much for your time. Thank you.

Hours after the Secret Service intercepted possible mail bombs addressed to former President Barack Obama, ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other prominent national figures, the building that houses the San Diego Union-Tribune and an office of Sen. Kamala Harris was evacuated Wednesday following the discovery a cluster of packages outside the downtown high- rise.

The Postal Service boxes found on a patio alongside the U-T building at 600 B St. — parcels that turned out to contain various harmless items — prompted San Diego police to clear everyone out of the newspaper's work spaces along with the rest of the skyscraper shortly after 8 a.m.


The evacuation, which was complete in about 15 minutes, was orderly, said City News Service police-beat reporter Jacob Sisneros, who also works in the 24-story building.

"It was a pretty seamless evacuation," said Sisneros, who estimated that several hundred people had to leave their offices. "They got everybody down through the elevators, and we took a left out of the building."

Officers closed Sixth Avenue between A and B streets as a precaution, resulting in some added congestion in the busy area at the tail end of morning rush hour.

Though San Diego police already were on heightened alert due to the possible attempted terror bombings, evacuees from the B Street building seemed mostly unfazed by the experience, Sisneros said.

"People were just kind of confused (about) why they evacuated," he said. "They were (mostly) worried about when they would get back to work."


Longtime Union-Tribune photographer John Gibbins, likewise, described the scene outside his office as calm, though some of the displaced, including fellow journalists, speculated about possible connections to the possible mail- bombing attempts thwarted a short time earlier.

Within about an hour, a city bomb squad determined the priority-mail packages were filled with everyday items, including shoes, children's books, a football and bags of potato chips, SDPD Lt. Kevin Wadhams said. Police then gave an all-clear and allowed workers to go back into the building.

San Diego officials concluded that the discovery of the suspicious packages outside the B Street office high-rise was not linked to the potential high-profile bombing attempts.

Surveillance video shot outside the U-T building showed someone setting down the boxes — which were not sealed or addressed — on a courtyard table next to an orange air pump around 1:45 a.m., Wadhams said. Officers were unable to identify the person from the video, the lieutenant said.

Augie Lopez, 27, a security guard who works at the front desk of the building, said it was the first time the structure, a prominent part of the downtown San Diego skyline, had been evacuated in his three years on the job.

The bomb-squad call came hours after the spate of possible mail bombs was intercepted across the country.

In addition to Obama and Clinton, the parcels were sent to former CIA head John Brennan via CNN's Manhattan offices, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz.

The fact that Harris — a Democratic lawmaker who is an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump — has an office in the San Diego building raised concerns for a time that the placement of the unidentified boxes on the adjacent public patio might be linked to the other apparent criminal cases.

"Our office was evacuated today after suspicious packages were found near the building," Harris spokeswoman Lily Adams wrote in a Twitter posting. "The packages were not addressed to the senator or our office. We are grateful to the San Diego Police Department for their work to swiftly investigate this issue."

VIDEO: Police: Evacuations Lifted, 'Suspicious Packages' At Union-Tribune Deemed Abandoned Property

Corrected: September 26, 2023 at 5:58 PM PDT
Editor's Note: This is a developing story. It will be updated as more details become available.
KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.