STATE REPRESENTATIVE
PAUL C. CASEY

Room 473-B
State House
Boston, MA 02133
Telephone: (617) 722-2230
District Office
585A Main St.
Winchester, MA 01890
Telephone: (617) 721-7285 or (617) 438-7185

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 ruthless act.

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 safety resources.

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.

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