A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 6, 1999
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2240
A HOAX DEVICE IS NO LAUGHING MATTER
I have always been a big fan of the Olympics. Fresh out of college in
1984, I made the cross-country trip to Los Angeles to witness the summer
games. Whether it be track and field, volleyball, or gymnastics, the
spirit and general congenial feelings of the entire city was unbelievable.
In 1996, I got a last minute flight and headed down to the Atlanta games.
The Cold War being over, the beautiful Olympic village was awash with a
spirit of camaraderie and excitement that totally eclipsed the scene I had
witnessed in Los Angeles some twelve years prior. Tragically, the joy and
exhilaration were soon crushed by an act of sheer terror. The Olympic
party ended in the tragic loss of life when a bomb exploded in the crowd
killing a German tourist, and injuring scores more.
I had crossed by the park only hours earlier on my way to an event.
The bomb blast completely changed the complexion of the Olympics. The
anxious sense of vulnerability coupled with sheer anger over such a
heartless act led to confusion and immediate finger pointing. What was
thought to be an innocently forgotten knapsack, turned out to be the
deliberate plot of a sinister terrorist that continues to send shock-waves
down my spine.
It seems that in today's world there is no place where we can take
safety for granted: not in the Olympic village, not in our nation's Capital
Building, not even in our local schools as we have unfortunately seen. In
fact, quiet communities like Winchester have not escaped the suspicious
violence and terrorism.
This past spring, following the disturbing events of Columbine,
Winchester High School was marred by a bomb threat phoned into the school.
In the wake of other high school tragedies elsewhere around the country,
many students and teachers felt violated and threatened by the scare. It
created an uneasy time that was only quelled by the reassurances of parents,
teachers, administrators, police and through the leadership of students
who refused to be more than temporarily sidetracked by the thoughtless and
Both of these events have troubled me greatly because they have
attacked two institutions that I hold very dearly. While these two
institutions differ greatly in their importance to society, they are
similar in that they both require a sense of safety and security in order
for performance to be maximized. When I was informed about the bomb threat
at the school, I happened to be meeting with Joe Danielle, the Executive
Director of the Massachusetts Fire Chiefs' Association. Once the threat
had been deemed false, our discussion was quickly narrowed to the
Massachusetts law dealing with explosives and bomb threats. As we began to
look at the law on the subject, we were struck by a gaping loophole that we
both agreed needed to be closed immediately.
Under current Massachusetts law, there is adequate law that would
severely punish someone who plants or constructs a bomb, as well as someone
who makes a fake or phony threat. However, no state laws exist to punish
someone who plants a fake bomb. As I have learned from my experiences, the
threat of any explosive device, whether capable of detonating or not, has
serious consequences not only on our emotional psyche, but on our public
Combining efforts with the Massachusetts Fire Chief's Association and
Department of Fire Services, I have filed a bill, H. 3423, that would make
it illegal to plant a device that is designed to imitate or resemble a
bomb. While someone may be demented enough to think that putting wires,
clay and a clock together in a bag to see emergency service crews scramble
to protect lives is funny or amusing, the new bill would define the act for
exactly what it is: criminal! The bill that I authored would carry a
maximum sentence of five years and a fine of $5,000 dollars.
The planting of a hoax device is no laughing matter. It is a serious
threat to the safety and peace that we should be able to expect throughout
society. Threats to that peace need to be dealt with harshly and
expediently. During the public hearing on the bill in front of the Joint
Committee on Criminal Justice, Sergeant Paul Damery, a State Police bomb
expert, testified about being called to a Lowell Laundromat for a
suspicious bag that was left unattended. As he began to x-ray the device,
he saw the digital timer countdown the final few seconds. Thankfully, the
device was a fake, but the damage had already been done. Besides nearly
giving Sergeant Damery a heart attack, a business was shutdown, a
neighborhood was alarmed and public safety personnel were put at risk. The
public trust had been breached, all for the crazed amusement of a sick
individual who the law does not presently or adequately address.
Admittedly, the events at the Lowell Laundromat are not a common
occurrence. There have been ten fake devices disposed of by the bomb squad
since the beginning of the year and twenty-eight incidents over the past
seventeen months. Although it is fortunately not a common occurrence, even
these few incidents cause such severe anguish and terror for the
communities where they occur to justify strict punishment under our laws.
The perpetrators of these acts must be brought to justice for these
inexcusable acts. Not surprisingly, H. 3423 has been widely embraced by
law enforcement, fire services, MEMA and even Middlesex District Attorney
Martha Coakley has pledged her full support. My office has also been
contacted by other states who are also looking to end the rampant feelings
of suspicion and insecurity. We need to send the clear message that hoax
bomb devices are no joke and will be dealt with severely. Through the
collaborative help of the District Attorney, the Massachusetts Fire Chiefs,
the State Police Bomb Squad, and the Department of Fire Services, I am
confidant that the loophole will be quickly closed so that we may defuse
the next potential threat before it occurs.