By Chris Collins
Cindy Carpenter relied on training she received during a 10-year banking career when she answered the phone from her desk in the County Clerk's Office about 2:15 p.m. Monday.
The male caller informed her that a bomb had been placed in the Courthouse.
Carpenter said she remained calm, listened for background noises and tried to question the man before he hung up on her. Her attempt to gain information was unsuccessful, but she was surprised how her bank training kicked in automatically.
Carpenter has worked at the Courthouse for the past seven years and has spent all but a year of that time as elections deputy in County Clerk Tami Green's office.
After hanging up the phone, Carpenter said she reported the threat to Green who notified other county officials and called 9-1-1.
Carpenter said she was unflappable while she was on the phone, but afterward she admitted to being a little unnerved.
"After I hung up I thought, 'Oh great, this could be real,'" she said. "Thank God it wasn't."
Carpenter said she appreciated Green's concern for the safety of the nine Election Board members who were working in the Clerk's Office on Monday. They were preparing ballots to be mailed to Baker School District patrons Friday asking voters whether they want to recall two School Board members.
Green instructed Carpenter to gather up the nine community residents and ensure they were safely out of the building as other employees were being evacuated.
The Courthouse workers were moved first to Third Street and Washington Avenue and then to Second and Washington while decisions were being made about how to proceed. The nearby Baker Middle School building also was locked down until classes ended for the day. When students were released, they exited the building from the school's Broadway Street door rather than from the front of the school at Washington Avenue and Fourth Street.
Fred Warner Jr., Baker County Commission chair, said employees were kept back from the Courthouse until about 3:30 p.m. because most of their cars were parked near the Courthouse.
They were sent home at that time.
Preparations were being made to bring in an OSP bomb squad from Pendleton and a bomb-detecting dog from Nampa, Idaho, when authorities learned that the Baker County threat was just one of 28 received throughout the state Monday afternoon.
"Once we learned of the others we hoped it was a hoax," Warner said. "We decided to wait and let time pass and hope it was safe before taking a minimum number of people back in."
Shortly before 4 p.m., city, county and state police officers along with county department heads conducted a floor-by-floor, room-by-room search of the Courthouse, Warner said. Nothing unusual was found.
The Courthouse was locked for the night about 4:20 p.m. It reopened as usual Tuesday morning.
"I was really impressed with the way the city and county law enforcement worked together and secured the scene," Warner said.
According to an OSP press release, courthouses around the state began receiving threats around 2:30 p.m. and they continued for about one hour. A threat was received at the Oregon Public Service Building in Salem, which houses the OSP General Headquarters office, at about 3 p.m. Monday.
In addition to Baker County, bomb threats were made to courthouses in these counties: Benton, Clatsop, Crook, Curry, Deschutes, Gilliam, Grant, Jackson, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Malheur, Marion, Morrow, Multnomah, Polk, Sherman, Tillamook, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, Washington, Wheeler, Yamhill.
OSP said eight similar threats were reported in Washington on Nov. 15 and nine in Nebraska on Nov. 2. All were unfounded.
Warner said Baker County is taking the opportunity after Monday's scare to review security protocols.
"This morning we're being more vigilant - watching people who are coming in and going out," he said. "We've tightened our security."
Warner also pointed to the hardship the hoax put on the Courthouse staff and law enforcement personnel as well as the inconvenience it caused to the public.
"If somebody thought it was funny - it really wasn't very funny," he said.