A 22-year-old person of interest in the suspicious substance scare at Pierce College Puyallup was located and detained by Puyallup Police detectives Feb. 6, just hours after the man apparently parked a black Honda in a walkway on campus and left what appeared to be a threatening note on the car’s dash.
Police have not released the individual’s name and message on the note left in the car. The Puyallup Post asked police to confirm the wording on the note, but a spokesperson declined.
“This is still an active and ongoing investigation. We will not release the actual note,” Capt. Scott Engle said on Friday evening.
On the day of the scare, campus security officers were notified at 9 a.m. of a man driving erratically on campus. He then abandoned the car after parking in the walkway next to the Brouillet Library/Science building.
Campus safety officials investigated the vehicle and found a note on the dashboard claiming that chemicals that would be harmful to the skin were in the car, according to Puyallup Police Sgt. Dan Pashon’s press release. Campus safety officers observed a suspicious substance in the vehicle and secured a perimeter around the car.
“The contents of the note, visual observations of unknown substances in the car, and the manner and location of where the car was parked plus that the suspect fled the scene led us to great concern.” Engle said in an email.
The individual, who had allegedly parked the car, fled in what one student described as at a high rate of speed. Another student told campus safety officers at about 10 a.m. of a white car was speeding the parking lot. The two incidents don’t appear to be related, college officials said.
Student Kye Cozart said he saw an individual running from the scene about 10: 45 a.m.
“About 30 minutes ago I saw a guy running out toward the bushes. He was hauling ass,” Cozart said on the morning of the incident.
According to Cozart, the man’s actions seemed a out of place.
“The individual appeared like your average scrawny Joe,” Cozart said. “If I had to say a hair color, it would probably be blond.”
Cozart didn’t directly explain that the individual was running from the car, and police have not confirmation as of yet as to whether or not this individual was tied to the bomb threat.
While investigating the car, one of the campus safety officers came in contact with the foreign substance on his hand while handling the note left on the dashboard. The officers attempted to remove the substance but continued to have an irregular feeling in the hand.
911 was immediately called, and the Puyallup Police and Central Pierce Fire department responded to the call. The guard was taken to the hospital for treatment and examination, and then was safely released hours later, according to Choi Halladay, vice president of administrative services, in an email to college employees.
Due to the unknown substance along with the note left on the car, Puyallup Police and Central Pierce Fire Department treated the situation as a serious threat.
The vehicle did not appear to be registered to a student on campus and no Pierce College parking sticker was affixed to the back window. Maintenance Custodian Robert Warner, who was monitoring the perimeter around the car on the morning of the incident, explained that this was the first time since he started working at Pierce five years ago that the campus has had to evacuate for a situation like this.
The LSC was the first building to be evacuated; campus safety officers and police officers went through all the classrooms and told students to leave the building. Many of those students waited in the main courtyard near the building. The suspicious black car could be clearly seen, and some students were taking photos with their cellphones.
Professor Scott Sweet said his students were working in lab Friday morning, and the materials—including numerous fish—that were used that day had to be left on the counters during the evacuation of the building.
Shortly before 11 a.m., the students who were congregating outside in the courtyard near the LSC, College Center and Administration Building were told to enter either the College Center or Administration Building.
Outside of the LSC, equipment that was placed in the car positively detected chemicals, and officials were concerned that the chemicals inside the vehicle could be biological weapons such as anthrax or other deadly substances.
At about 11:15 a.m., students, staff members and faculty were told the campus was to be evacuated and closed for the remainder of the day. This proved to be joyous for some students and difficult for others.
Student Donovan Mann was one individual who did not take the evacuation kindly.
“I hate missing class,” Mann said.
Parker Hurley, who was working on an essay in the library, said a safety officer came in and informed students to evacuate.
“Whatever ends up happening with this car is better than class,” Hurley said.
Logan Webber, who was in the library with Hurley, also was excited about missing class but nervous. He was upset because he wasn’t able to email his essay to himself before the building was evacuated.
“I wrote about five paragraphs of beautiful literature and now it’s lost in the depths of Pierce’s archives,” Webber said.
Emily Rash also was in library working when the building was evacuated. She said a police officer came in and said, “We’re evacuating the building. This is not a drill. This is not a drill.”
Students couldn’t leave campus in a timely manner were instructed to wait for their rides by the main entrance of the college while those students with disabilities were picked up by a Pierce Transit bus that was specially arranged by officials. Traffic was stopped on both sides of the college’s back entrance by Walmart, so that students could evacuate quickly.
According to Central Pierce Fire and Rescue spokesman Guy Overby, the evacuation of the campus went smoothly.
“The school appeared to do a good job on asking everyone to leave,” Overby said.
A regional Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department’s Hazardous Devices Squad responded to the potentially dangerous situation and assisted with the investigation. The buildings and parking lots were thoroughly checked as a precaution, but nothing unusual was found on the premise, officials said.
The regional Hazardous Materials Team determined that the suspicious substance found in the car abandoned on campus is believed to be baking soda, Overby said in an interview on Friday afternoon.
At about 2:30 p.m. officials began to break down their equipment and moved the extensive apparatus from the college. There were a total of five fire engines, a hazardous material incident operations rig, two medics and other equipment stationed on campus.
“We have a lot of apparatus here,” Overby said.
About 3:30 p.m. the campus was reopened for access, but activities scheduled for the afternoon and evening were cancelled. Numerous vehicles still were in the parking lots after the campus was closed, leading observers to believe that some students left with someone else or walked off campus.
The college posted a notice Friday evening that said students and college employees were able to pick up their vehicles, and activities and classes scheduled for Saturday would resume as usual.
Puyallup Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division was able to identify a person of interest in the case, according to Pashon, and police continue to investigate the incident.
—The Puyallup Post staff members and Intro to Feature Writing students assisted with the information gathering for this story.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost