Two packages ignite in Md. gov't buildings; two people hurt
Friday, January 7, 2011
HANOVER, Md. -- Two packages ignited when they were opened Thursday at state government buildings 20 miles apart, slightly burning the fingers of two employees but not seriously injuring anyone, police said.
Authorities were investigating a third suspicious package at a state office building in Baltimore, but it was not clear if it was related to the other two.
One of the two packages that ignited was addressed to Gov. Martin O'Malley and the other to the state transportation department. The State Fire Marshal's office did not find any explosive material in either.
"When both packages were opened there was a reaction that caused a flash of fire, a brief flash of fire, smoke and a smell," state police spokesman Greg Shipley said. "This is not to be compared with a significant explosion that you think of when you say that word."
One was opened around 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Jeffrey Building, a state office building just blocks from the State House in downtown Annapolis, and another 15 minutes later at the Maryland Department of Transportation building in Hanover, near Baltimore's airport.
The employee who burned his fingers there was taken to the hospital, as were three other people who were concerned because they were near the package when it was opened.
Shipley said the packages were small, about the size of a book. One had five holiday stamps.
Mailrooms at state offices across Maryland were being quarantined until it could be determined if any other packages had been sent.
The Jeffrey Building houses the state Department of Veterans Affairs, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and the Maryland Secretary of State's office, as well as the mail room for the governor's office.
Cate Conroy, acting director of outreach and advocacy for the veterans affairs department, was working there when the first package was opened and said employees calmly left after being told to do so while reports of smoke were investigated.
"It happened quite quietly, actually," Conroy said.
She said employees were allowed back into the building around 3:30 p.m.
The FBI's joint terrorism task force was assisting in the investigation. A U.S. Homeland Security Department official said the department was aware of the incidents and monitoring them.
In Baltimore, David Paulson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the department received instructions between 12:30 and 1 p.m. to close down the mailroom and stop processing packages.
Paulson said one package was singled out as matching the description of the other two and authorities were investigating. The health department's headquarters was not evacuated.
Baltimore Police Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the package was found about 3:45 p.m. No one was hurt.
In neighboring Delaware, Detective Britt Davis, a spokesman for the Delaware Capitol Police, said police were operating in a state of raised awareness, but they were not doing much differently.
New Jersey State Police said they had notified agencies across the Garden State about what had happened, saying it was part of normal protocol when such incidents occur. The New Jersey agencies were advised to be "extra vigilant" in handling mail and packages.
Associated Press Writers Alex Dominguez and Kasey Jones in Baltimore, Jessica Gresko in Annapolis, Brian Witte in Atlanta, and Eileen Sullivan and Alicia Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.