ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Courthouse was shut down for over two hours on Tuesday because of a bomb threat. Specially trained police dogs were brought in to search the building and no bombs were found. The building reopened shortly after 1 p.m.
Mayor Leon Humphrey said the call came to the county clerk's office at 11:06 a.m. He said the clerk who took the call said the message sounded like an automated tape recording. The caller said there were "multiple" bombs in the courthouse.
The county clerk's office immediately called Mayor Humphrey with the message. He informed 911 at 11:10 a.m. and he immediately ordered the evacuation of the building.
The nearby Carter County Justice Center was also evacuated.
The Elizabethton Police Department and the Elizabethton Fire Department closed off the streets surrounding the courthouse, including three blocks of Main Street and several blocks of West Elk Avenue from Academy Street to Highway 19E. Fire trucks and police cars blocked the roads and permitted only local traffic to enter.
Capt. Joy Markland, commander of the Criminal Investigations Division with the Elizabethton Police Department, said the Bristol, Tennessee Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol brought in dogs trained to detect explosives to search the buildings.
After the dogs searched the two-floor building, the all clear was given. Citizens and employees were allowed to return to the building and traffic was again permitted to drive though the area.
Humphrey said the incident "denied ouir citizens access to conduct their business and employees from performing their work."
The threat interrupted the closing moments of a five-day trail that had been going on in the Main Courtroom. Attorneys Richard and Thom Gray said they were down to a single witness who was going to testify for 10 minutes. They said they planned to enter a stipulation about the interruption and conclude the testimony when the building was reoccupied.
The case also caused a problem for Sessions Court in the Justice Center. With that building locked and roads to the courtroom blocked, defendants were delayed in geeting to court for the afternoon session.
The Carter County closure was just one of a reported 24 bomb threats in Tennessee on Tuesday. Markland said she had heard there were other courthouses threatened, but she said there was no immediate way to know if the bomb threats were related and no assumptions were made that there was a connection.
Markland said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security assisted the Elizabethton Police Department.
An update posted around 1:15 p.m. Tuesday is below:
A call to the Carter County Clerk Tuesday morning alleging multiple bombs were in the courthouse turned out to be false.
County Clerk Mary Gouge received what sounded like an automated call just after 11 this morning. She immediately called Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who called 911. The building was then evacuated.
Officers with the Bristol Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol assisted in sweeping the building with bomb-sniffing dogs.
No bomb was found and the building was deemed safe by around 1:15 p.m.
Elizabethton Police Capt. Joy Markland heard of reports of other bomb threats at courthouses around the state but said this incident was treated as unique.
Keep checking JohnsonCityPress.com for more information and the Wednesday print edition for a full story by Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson.
According to the Associated Press, 24 courthouses across the state received bomb threats this morning, including the one in Carter County.
No devices were found in any of those courthouses.
Tennessee became the fourth state to deal with similar bomb hoaxes. One targeted 28 courthouses in Oregon and similar threats were reported in Nebraska and Washington this month.
Seven threats were in West Tennessee, four in Middle Tennessee and 13 in East Tennessee, said state Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt. No bombs have been found.
Dalya Qualls, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said no arrests have been made and the agency is assisting local law enforcement to investigate.
The West Tennessee counties that received threats were Carroll, Crockett, Decatur, Hardeman, Hardin, Chester and Shelby. The Middle Tennessee counties affected were Cheatham, Clay, Franklin and Giles. The East Tennessee counties that received threats were Anderson, Bledsoe, Blount, Campbell, Carter, Claiborne, Cumberland, Fentress, Grainger, Greene, Hamblen, Hamilton and Hancock.
Below is the original post regarding the bomb threat:
The Carter County Courthouse has been evacuated and the roads surrounding the building have been blocked.
A Johnson City Press reporter is on the scene. More information will be provided as it comes in, so keep checking JohnsonCityPress.com.