Bomb Threats and Bagpipes on a Day of False Reports in Boston

Rising above the murmur of a parking lot filled with media vans, reporters, and gawking passersby, a noise familiar to many Bostonians broke out—the bleating of bagpipes. A man identified as longshoreman Mike Murphy played the elegiac melody “Amazing...

Rising above the murmur of a parking lot filled with media vans, reporters, and gawking passersby, a noise familiar to many Bostonians broke out—the bleating of bagpipes. A man identified as longshoreman Mike Murphy played the elegiac melody “Amazing Grace” in the parking lot of the Moakley Federal Courthouse in South Boston, as firefighters approached the building and marshals patrolled the entrance after a bomb threat had been identified.

Yesterday, false reports that a suspect was arrested in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation stirred up daylong media frenzy as reportors, TV personalities, and tweeters tried to get the scoop about who might be accused of setting off the twin blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon near Copley Square that killed three and injured 176 others on Monday. The bomb threat, like suspicisous packages in New York, LA, and other cities, proved unfounded, but it made an already-pitched atmosphere all the more dramatic.

Rumors of a possible arrest had been buzzing all day, and at 1:01 PM, CNN announced that an arrest was made in connection to the marathon bombings, according to John King and CNN contributor Fran Townsend. King claimed that he heard the information from Boston law enforcement, while Townsend named federal law enforcement as her source.

“Authorities now believe they have identified a suspect,” King said on air, “an individual who placed one of those explosive devices at the location of the second explosion.”

Multiple news sources including Fox News, the Boston Globe, and the Associated Press also reported that a bombing suspect was in custody and being transported to the federal court house, where a crowd began to gather in response to the news. Meanwhile, CBS and NBC said that no arrest had been made, citing their own sources.

At 2:33 PM, CNN’s live blog admitted that there was conflicting information over a Boston Marathon bombing arrest. By 2:43 PM, King said on air that there had been no arrest but stated, “We believe there has been substantial progress made in the investigation.” 

Today, April 18, Twitter is again abuzz over possible security-camera footage that might show a man dropping a bag near the second explosion site. Boston City Council President Stephen Murphy told media that the FBI has clear images from a department-store camera and that the hunt, so to speak, is on. Those pictures might (or might not) be released to the public.

But yesterday, no such on-record reports surfaced, and the Boston Police Department quickly dismissed the idea that a suspect was in custody, insisting that no arrests in relation to the bombings had been made. FBI Special Agent Greg Comcowich released a statement that sternly rebuked the one-upmanship of the media reporting in the last 48 hours:

Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.

Within the hour, all major news outlets had retracted their report of the arrest. But there was still a story at the Moakley Federal Courthouse: around 3:15 PM, the courthouse was evacuated after a code-red announcement due to a bomb threat.

A bomb squad and the Boston Fire Department quickly reached the courthouse. Police formed a perimeter around the courthouse and blocked off the street.

The courthouse parking lot spilled with camera crews and journalists, from local news reporters to CNN’s Don Lemon. Their focus was on the black bomb-squad van in front of the courthouse, and the heavily armed US Marshals posted around the perimeter of the building. The parking lot was tense and quiet as the media and security monitored the developing situation.

Word soon spread through the assembled media that the bomb threat was a hoax. At 4:13 PM, about an hour after the evacuation, a maintenance worker walked to the front of the courthouse and began waving a green flag, giving the all-clear signal. Gary Wente, a circuit executive at the courthouse, announced to reporters that the building was cleared, and that only employees would be allowed to return.

“We had a bomb threat,” said Wente. “The building has been cleared.”

After Wente’s statement, the tightly packed media crowd began to spread out and disperse. As a result of the bomb threat, the press conference scheduled by the FBI and Boston Police, originally scheduled for 5 PM, was first delayed then canceled.

Confused civilians were still congregated on the blocks surrounding the courthouse. Some had come to get a peek of the suspect that had never been arrested in the first place, while others may have arrived after hearing news of the bomb threat and evacuation.

“So did they catch the guy or not?” said a young woman as she walked away from the scene.

Another day in Boston has raised more questions and precious few answers.