A derelict suitcase left on an Inner Sunset sidewalk does not usually cause fear, snarl the morning commute, or trigger evacuations and bomb investigations.
But when a caller warned police about a suspicious briefcase left in front of a dollar store on the morning after the killing of Osama bin Laden, the official response quickly escalated to an atypical level of severity.
Morning commuters had to abandon Muni’s busy N-Judah line and police secured the area as a potential bomb site. An operator on that line later warned riders that Muni expects more such delays this week because of “today’s headlines.” The driver suggested riders allocate extra time for their commute and become familiar with alternative routes.
Meanwhile in Southern California, an unattended backpack forced about 50 commuters to vacate a Metrolink commuter train in Riverside, and service into a nearby station was shut down for about an hour until bomb experts using a dog determined the bag was safe.
Most local public safety agencies used the phrase “heightened awareness” Monday to describe how they plan to react to the news of bin Laden’s death. For example, San Francisco police said they plan to pay more attention to hot spots such as Muni stops, places of worship and locations where people gather to protest.
“Ever since 9/11, people’s senses are heightened,” police Sgt. Mike Andraychak said. “And something like this does bring the focus back.”
BART was the only local agency that announced extra security precautions, increasing the number of transit officers on the lookout for suspicious packages and activity from seven to about 15.
“BART is on the list of potential terrorist targets,” spokesman Linton Johnson said.
The majority of commuters interviewed Monday agreed that such patrols can be comforting, but none said they were worried.
“My parents are definitely more scared, so I bet it would help them feel safe, but I’m not any different than I was before,” said Michael Smith, who was sitting outside the Montgomery Street station.
Still, because potential threats are being taken more seriously in the wake of the news from Pakistan, it might be inevitable that commutes are slower than usual for a while.
“We ask for people’s patience,” BART police Sgt. Ed Alvarez said.
The delays on Muni reverberated throughout the morning commute. During the bomb scare, the SFMTA shut down inbound and outbound service on the N-Judah line. When trains on the line reached the intersection of Church Street and Duboce Avenue — the final above-ground stop for the train — passengers were asked to disembark so trains could turn around and head back to Ocean Beach.
Above-ground F-Market cars were filled to capacity throughout much of the morning from the overflow at the Church and Castro stations. Operators kept passengers up to date with intercom announcements about the number of trains headed toward downtown, but most were filled to capacity. By 10 a.m., the Church Street station had a platform full of passengers waiting for the next available ride to work.
The Associated Press and staff writers Mike Aldax, Mike Billings and Andrea Koskey contributed to this report.
Local ground zero responders react to the death of bin Laden
It’s been nine years since New York City firefighter Ray Downey died in the second World Trade Center tower collapsed during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And for the past nine years, Menlo Park fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman has never taken off the bracelet in memory of his fallen friend.
But as news broke Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American military forces, Schapelhouman didn’t rejoice.
“I’m glad that [bin Laden is] no longer around, but at the same time, I’m not one to go out and celebrate that he’s not with us anymore,” Schapelhouman said. “I understand it. But we didn’t see it on TV, we lived it. What he took from us, we’re not going to get back.”
Schapelhouman, 50, was one of many local firefighters who went to ground zero in New York a decade ago to “dig through a human graveyard,” as he somberly put it.
Frank Fraone, a veteran fire division chief in Menlo Park, also went to New York shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and spent 14 straight days rummaging through the wreckage for survivors. Fraone had a different reaction than Schapelhouman after learning that the man responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had been killed by American military forces.
“I was ecstatic that they got and killed him,” the 50-year-old Fraone said.
Like many people, Fraone had grown frustrated with all the failed efforts to capture bin Laden after Sept. 11.
“As time went on, anger set in and resentment set in,” Fraone said. “I was disappointed that it took so long, but I’m glad it’s finally here. We’re never going to give up. We’re never going to forget.”
Fraone said he lost two personal firefighter friends who died at ground zero — Downey and Capt. Terry Hatton, another New York firefighter.
Bin Laden’s death gives “a sense of relief and closure for them and their families,” Fraone said. “They know justice has been served.” -- Alexis Terrazas
What was your initial reaction to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death?
“A little bit of relief and amazement. It seemed like a long time coming. Hopefully we see an end to a chapter. Glad it was on Obama’s watch.”
— Chuck Duvall, Austin, Texas (while visiting the Golden Gate Bridge)
“Shock. After a certain amount of time, I think we suspected it wouldn’t happen. Evolution of strategy got him.”
— Joe Jarrell, San Francisco
“Extremely skeptical. They have no proof. Seems like they are trying to cover something up. It just doesn’t seem right.”
— Alejandra Bayardo, San Francisco