False alarm clears out Union Square, leaves many on edge

A bomb scare that led to the evacuation of Union Square at the height of business hours Wednesday afternoon unnerved residents and tourists, who remain on edge following the recent botched terrorist attack in New York’s Times Square.

A Union Square security guard reported a suspicious object to police around 12:30 p.m. The threat was serious enough to prompt the evacuation of the bustling shopping district for about 90 minutes, reroute six Muni lines and shutter stores in the area for a bomb squad investigation.

The object, which turned out to be harmless, was partially buried in a planter box at the west end of Union Square, across from
240 Stockton St., police Officer Boaz Mariles said. Authorities have not revealed what the object was, though sources say it was cylindrically shaped, fitted with screws and nails and had a black band on it.

Authorities are launching a full investigation into whether someone may have purposely placed the object in the planter with the intent to startle people.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” Mariles said.

The usually jam-packed streets and sidewalks along Stockton, Post and Geary streets became a ghost town for 90 minutes while a bomb-detecting robot scoured the bushes.

The situation made some onlookers nervous.

“It’s crazy. You can never pass it off as nothing anymore,” said Gerald Madison, 63, a San Diego resident in town on business.

Vacationer Chris Gregg of Leeds, England, said he was en route to the Levi’s store when police told him he and his girlfriend had to turn around.

“I already knew what it is,” Gregg said. “I could see the inspection [robot]. I couldn’t see the package, but it was in the bushes.”

Gregg said he was surprised pedestrians were allowed to be so close to the suspicious package following the evacuation, saying a recent bomb scare in his hometown required a 600-meter perimeter.

“We’re still quite close,” Gregg said.

Pedestrians left the area in an orderly fashion, Sgt. Brian Devlin said.

The incident came the day after Mayor Gavin Newsom cautioned that terrorist threats in America are not only made against East Coast cities.

“The information I get that’s not made public makes me, as a citizen, concerned about the prospect that something in the future along the lines of what happened in New York … could happen [in San Francisco],” the mayor said Tuesday.

The mayor made the comment Tuesday on a pier near AT&T Park, a potential terrorist target, during a homeland security exercise testing local responses to terrorist attacks on ports.


Union Square ordeal

12:30 p.m. Time suspicious object was found
90 Minutes Union Square was shut down Wednesday
10 Hours Times Square in New York was shut down May 1
1 Suspicious object found and cleared in Union Square

Bay Area NewsCrimeCrime & CourtsLocalPolice DepartmentUnion Square

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