CHESTER — An anonymous male called The Star Democrat and said he would “blow a bomb ... bigger than China” in the building on Nov. 5, forcing evacuations at nine different APG Media newspapers across Maryland.
No bomb was found at any of the locations owned by The Star Democrat’s parent company, but the threat came during a company visit from CEO Mark Adams.
After he was made aware of the initial threat, Regional President Jim Normandin contacted all nine of APG’s offices across Maryland, including Dundalk, Elkton, Chester, Chestertown, La Plata, California and Prince Frederick. Police quickly cleared each location.
Deputies from the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Bay Times & Record Observer newspaper office in Chester. Police were able to secure the scene and evacuated the entire building, including the apartments over top and around the Bay Times. Bomb Detection K9 Units from Annapolis City Police Department arrived and were able to clear the scene with no positive alerts.
The Easton Police Department responded at 12:44 p.m. and cleared The Star Democrat building on Airpark Drive by 2:13 p.m.
Police believe the anonymous caller, whose number was traced to La Plata in Charles County, was trying to reach another APG Media newspaper, but wound up at the The Star Democrat’s line through an automated phone directory.
In July, APG Media combined its three Southern Maryland newspapers, Maryland Independent, The Enterprise and The Calvert Recorder, into one — Southern Maryland News.
“We don’t know who it could be,” said George Paugh, the commander of the patrol division for Easton Police Department. “But it originated in La Plata. Our criminal investigation unit will look into it.”
APG Media CEO Mark Adams stood outside with a crowd of employees for the duration of the incident. He said the threat was shocking, but he was happy with the response.
“It’s nice to see that the police department responded so quickly,” he said. “And to see that they’re here to protect free speech and a free press.”
The Star Democrat’s legals department, which handles public notices, received the call from a blocked number at 12:31 p.m. The caller said “you guys are a bunch of (expletives deleted)” before issuing the bomb threat.
Georgi Chauvin, client solutions manager for the legals department, said the employee who picked up the call was “pretty shaken up.”
“We get a lot of crazy calls and you kind of have to know which ones to report,” she said. “But when anybody calls in with a threat, you have to keep people safe.”
Chauvin told Betsy Griffin, the advertising sales director, and she called the Easton Police Department by 12:36 p.m. Police instructed employees to evacuate the building, and Normandin ordered the evacuation shortly after.
Officers blocked off Airpark Drive, and several police vehicles arrived on scene, including two K-9 units from the Maryland State Police. The bomb-detecting dogs walked the perimeter of the building before inspecting the inside of The Star Democrat’s offices and ultimately clearing the building and grounds.
The bomb threat led to the closure of a block in downtown Chestertown as well Thursday afternoon, with the Chestertown Police Department, Kent County Sheriff’s Office and Maryland State Police responding.
The Kent County News office along with neighboring buildings in the 200 block of High Street were evacuated by police as a safety precaution at around 3 p.m.
A Maryland State Police K-9 unit searched the Kent County News offices and outside areas around the building, with nothing found. The scene was cleared a little after 5 p.m.
“I want to thank the Chestertown Police Department, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, the Maryland State Police and our local fire police for their assistance and ensuring our safety,” said Kent County News Editor Daniel Divilio.
Normandin said he was glad for the swift police response.
“I’m really, really relieved that our employees and associates are safe,” he said. “I’m extremely grateful for the community we serve. I hope they find this individual.”