NEW DETAILS: Police say suspicious suitcases belonged.... - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

NEW DETAILS: Police say suspicious suitcases belonged to homeless man


The Cedar Rapids Police say the suspicious suitcases that caused an evacuation of part of downtown early Friday morning belonged to a homeless men and posed no threat.

Police say a woman showed up to work at around 7:00 a.m. at 317 7th Avenue SE and found two suitcases that she thought were suspicious.

She called police and they determined it was credible enough to evacuate several buildings and close streets.  The evacuation included the YMCA and the Human Services Campus.

As a precaution, the following streets were closed:

- 8th Avenue between 2nd Street and 5th Street SE
- 7th Avenue between 3rd Street and 5th Street SE
- 3rd Street between 7th Avenue and 8 Avenue

The Metro Bomb Squad sent in a robot to X-ray the bags.  After an investigation of the two suitcases, police determined there was no threat and those evacuated were let back into their buildings before 1:00 p.m.

Police say the bags belonged to a 59-year old homeless man.  They determined that no charges would be filed and the man was allowed to go on his way with his belongings.

Friday's situation turned out to be a false alarm, with unfortunate timing. The scare was not connected to Sunday's anniversary, but the events of 2001 did change how law enforcement, and local businesses, handle what occurred Friday.

"With the anniversary so close, we took it very seriously. So we evacuated immediately and we're hoping this thing gets over pretty quick. Not only does it stop our business in action... we don't want to see anything happen in downtown Cedar Rapids. We don't need that," said local businessman Peter Durin, of Terry-Durin Co.

Cedar Rapids Police Department's would have responded to this kind of threat before Sept. 11, but they would not have been capable of what they are now.

"It changed tremendously. Just for the simple reason that we have more resources available to us because of federal funding," said Cedar Rapids Police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin.

Homeland Security has created opportunities for the Metro Bomb Squad to train together on a monthly basis. It's also makes a dangerous situation, like investigating a potential bomb, safer for the men and women.

"Eleven years ago, we would have sent one of our officers up there. Now we have a robot that will go up and do that. And that's because of Homeland Security funding," Hamblin said.

Even after a decade, Iowans remain on heightened alert. Believing, it's better to err on the side of caution, than to find yourself responding too late.

"We can't be afraid, but we need to take things seriously," said Durin.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department, along with the rest of the Metro Bomb Squad, practices evacuations with two major businesses in town. Hamblin said Friday's evacuation went smoothly thanks to the patience and understanding of workers in the downtown area.

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