Empty suitcase has shoppers trapped for 2 hours
A bomb scare kept customers and employees held inside the Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee stores for two hours Thursday night, while a suspicious suitcase left in the parking lot was subjected to sniffing by a bomb-search dog, zapped with x-ray testing equipment and blasted with a water cannon.
The suitcase turned out to be empty and harmless, but police are still investigating.
The Storm Lake Police Department was dispatched to the Wal-Mart on North Lake Avenue at about 7:45 p.m.Store security personnel said that someone had left a full-size suitcase approximately 60 feet from the front door.
According to Storm Lake Police Capt. Bob Swanson, no threats were called in, and no one claimed the bag.
Based on concerns as to what the suitcase contained, police cordoned off the parking lot area. The Storm Lake Fire Department was dispatched to the scene to assist in case the suitcase may contain an explosive device.
The Buena Vista County Sheriff's Office and the Iowa State Patrol also assisted with traffic and perimeter security. A Buena Vista County Paramedic Unit also stood by at the scene.
Two agents with the Iowa
State Fire Marshal's Office responded to the scene. Upon their arrival, they checked the bag with a bomb sniffing dog and x-ray equipment. After checking the bag, the Fire Marshal's Office personnel rendered the suitcase safe by shooting it with a water cannon.
The water cannon tore the suitcase open and it was found to be empty.
Police officers and firefighters kept patrons and employees in both the Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee stores until the scene was determined to be safe. They were held in the stores for approximately two hours.
Public safety personnel cleared the scene at 10:20 p.m.
There were no identifying markings on the bag and the police are investigating who may have left the suitcase in the parking lot. Swanson said police will review security tapes of the Wal-Mart parking lot, too.
At this time, police are unsure if the empty suitcase was intended to be taken this way. "We don't know if someone set it out while loading their vehicle and forgot to put it back in," he said.
It was an older looking case and had not been purchased at the store, Swanson said.
Public Safety Director Mark Prosser said the response was due to the suspicious nature of the suitcase.
"We are glad that the suitcase did not contain an explosive device, but its presence in the parking lot with no one around it was very suspicious," he said. "We certainly appreciate the cooperation we received from the employees and patrons of both the Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee stores. We know it was an inconvenience, but we wanted to insure everyone's safety."