As Lana Benson opened the front door of CK Pharmacy to start her business day Dec. 16, she noticed a dark colored shoulder bag near the store entrance. A little later, it was still there, so she contacted her employers who told her to call police.
Unable to reach a Peabody officer on duty, she contacted Marion County Sheriff and Peabody Fire Department.
“All I really wanted was to have someone who knew more than I did look at it and tell me what to do,” she said. “I didn’t want red lights and sirens flying up the street. I only wanted someone with some training to decide if it was a bomb.”
Before long, Peabody Fire Department and EMS arrived on the scene and the Peabody duty officer returned from Marion. Barricades were set up at First and Second St. intersections with Walnut St. All businesses in the 100 block were evacuated.
“My mom was working at Pop’s Diner across the street, so she and I went to her house about two blocks away,” Benson said. “As we left I saw that the bank people were still working and later I heard that no one was evacuated there or from the grocery store. That seemed odd.”
Other business owners, employees, and customers were sent off-premises. Jean Smith was getting a perm at A Little Off the Top toward the south end of the block when she and proprietor Kelly Penner were told to leave. Penner gathered everything needed to finish and they went to Smith’s kitchen to get the job done.
Mark Whitney at Peabody Hardware and Lumber was willing to cooperate and lock his doors, but he hated to waste the morning doing nothing and wanted to work in his shop in the lumber building behind the store.
“They wouldn’t even let me do that,” he said. “They told me to just go home and they would let me know when I could come back. I thought they were over-reacting a bit.”
Benson said that in the end she felt a little foolish for creating such an issue.
“Two or three years ago I wouldn’t have thought anything about it. I probably would have picked the bag up, taken it inside, and thrown it away,” she said. “But now you hear all the time that if something is weird or out of place, you need to notify the law. What do they say? ‘If you see something, say something?’ I wasn’t going to take a chance, but it sure made a mess.”
Police Chief Bruce Burke said that Benson did the right thing.
“It is always smarter to be careful in situations like this,” he said. “I would encourage people to make the first call to 911 though instead of trying to reach law enforcement through non-emergency numbers.”
Burke also said officer Travis Davis contacted him shortly after getting the threat report. Davis also contacted the Wichita bomb squad by phone. Through a series of questions and answers between Davis and a bomb squad member, the threat was reduced fairly quickly. The initial call came in at 10:36 a.m. and the incident ended at 12:20 p.m. Peabody fire and EMS were advised to stand down at 11:27 a.m.
Davis is looking into why the bag was there in the first place. Police know the owner’s identity and where the bag was before being tossed in front of the drug store. Burke said he did not yet know if charges would be filed in the case.
“Bottom line here is, do what Mrs. Benson did,” he said. “If something strikes you as odd or wrong, say something.”