Photos by Jim Hudson, FD-Intern, Photo Division
Town hall shut down after suspicious letters found
By Mikaela Slaney
Wed Jan 21, 2009
Rockland - Rockland Town Hall was closed and evacuated on Wednesday (Jan. 21) and Town Administrator Alan Chiocca left the building wearing a plastic “Tynex” suit after six suspicious envelopes were delivered with the day’ s mail, addressed to Chiocca and each of the town’s five selectmen.
As of Wednesday afternoon, no one was reportedly injured or effected by the letters, according to police chief John Llewellyn. The letters were delivered to town hall but were never opened.
“Mary brought the [letters] to me,” Chiocca said, referring to administrative assistant Mary Stewart. “And she said ‘these letters don’t seem right’ and I took them and looked at them and realized it was someone’s really bad prank or a serious threat. Then I dropped them back down on my desk and called public safety.”
The incident occurred at 11 a.m., and town hall was evacuated shortly after.
Before noon, members of the state’s District 2 Hazardous Materials team arrived at the town hall joining Rockland police and fire and took samples of the brown, crystallized substance that was leaking from inside the envelopes. Postal service inspectors are also working on the case, Llewellyn said.
Llewellyn said the letters were never opened, and were to be tested at a lab on Wednesday night.
“We do not believe that we have a hazardous material, based on initial findings,” said interim fire chief William Ferguson.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Ferguson said he could not comment on what the substance may be.
Because the letters were not opened, Llewellyn said police did not know whether there were any threats inside.
The letters were stamped and sent through the mail, using typewritten addresses, Llewellyn said.
Llewellyn said police do not know who sent the letters.
“This is domestic terrorism,” said lieutenant Barry Ashton.
Chiocca was advised to change out of his clothes and into a plastic “Tynex” suit while at the town hall. Several other employees who came in contact with the envelopes either had clothes brought to them or they went straight home on Wednesday to change and shower.
Llewellyn said he is not sure if there is any ongoing danger for town officials.
“It’s better to air on the side of safety,” he said.
Chiocca said Rockland Town Hall has not fielded any threats recently.
“We’ve heard there are reports of other mailings around the country,” Ferguson said. “We are pretty sure it has nothing to do with that. I really can’t say why.”
Chiocca said the closing of town hall on Wednesday was not fortuitous, because it was a busy day and employees were working on grant proposals, mulling over budgetary issues and collecting taxes at the collector’s office.
“It’s a [lost] day of productivity,” Chiocca said. “I think we have a very resilient bunch of employees and it’s just frustrating for some small mind to get their jollies this way. Simple things amuse simple minds. It’s a coward that has to act out his frustrations in this manner.”