Update, July 29, 12 p.m. One local resident said she spotted this box July 19, prior to the police incident: “That was in a neighboring yard full of freebies on Sunday. My husband found a romulan warbird model next to it.…We thought the box was a bad art project.”
Original story, July 22, 1:38 p.m. Police advised the public to avoid the area of Hopkins Street and Monterey Avenue in North Berkeley on Wednesday afternoon after a report of the discovery of a suspicious package.
Authorities ultimately rendered the package safe and an officer on the scene said the scare had likely been the result of a hoax. (Scroll to the bottom of this story to see our live updates throughout the afternoon.)
At about 1:30 p.m., the Berkeley Police Department put out a Nixle alert about the incident: “The Berkeley Police is currently investigating a suspicious package found near the intersection of Monterey Avenue and Hopkins Street. The intersection is closed to all vehicle and pedestrian traffic.”
Police asked people to avoid the area and say they “do not know how long the roadway will be closed.”
Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said police were advised about the package at about 12:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Police called in the bomb squad to assist in the investigation, she said.
Reports on Twitter began coming into Berkeleyside from readers shortly after 1 p.m.
One local resident, Rachel Gold, reported “Stores evacuated and major traffic” in the area.
Another reader, Anna Runkle, said a suspicious package had been spotted by shop workers as early as 6 a.m.
She described the package as large and wrapped in gray tape with the word “Hazard” on it.
She said the package had been left at a bus stop near a mailbox, according to what she had been told by shop workers in the area.
“They are testing it now & plan to blow it up,” Runkle wrote at about 1:20 p.m.
Update, 2:15 p.m. Mary Flaherty, reporting from the scene for Berkeleyside, counted at least five police cruisers at California Street, which turns into Monterey when it crosses Hopkins.
Flaherty said the street had been closed since at least 12:50 p.m., and was still closed as of 2:10 p.m.
Flaherty told Berkeleyside: “LOTS of people stopping to ask the officers what’s going on. I think there are quite a few frustrated shoppers.”
Update, 3:15 p.m. Wrote Devin Taylor-McDonald, at about 3:10 p.m., “Something just blew up. I’m assuming it was a controlled explosion.” He said “the smoke dispersed pretty fast.”
Runkle reported a “big bang sound at bomb squad location” and local resident Nancy Van House wrote, on Twitter, that she too believes it was the sound of the bomb squad’s detonation.
Update, 3:20 p.m. Writes Taylor-McDonald: “Fire department and regular officers are approaching the scene. I assume it’s been neutralized.”
Update, 3:29 p.m. A Berkeley police officer told Runkle that the package “had old ‘1950s’ radioactive symbol on it,” and said it was likely a hoax. “You can’t be too safe” he told her. It was destroyed with a controlled explosion.
Coats, police spokeswoman, confirmed that the package was destroyed using “a water disruption procedure,” which most likely caused the boom heard by those in the area. She said she would try to pass on additional information.
Update, 3:45 p.m. Taylor-McDonald was able to take some photographs of the package, and offered the following description: “Apparently it was near a boom box or some kind of radio… hence the concern that there may have been a transmitter or something. There was nothing inside. Turned out to be a foam box. Perhaps a prop or something.”
Update, 3:51 p.m. Police sent out a Nixle alert to advise the public that Monterey and Hopkins had been re-opened, and the package rendered safe: “BPD still investigating. Appears the package did not contain anything dangerous. We appreciate the community’s assistance while we investigated this matter.”
Update, 4:20 p.m. In the aftermath of the scare, some Berkeleyside readers on Twitter found the humor in what likely was a frustrating situation for many local residents, merchants and shoppers.
Quentin Hardy shared his observations about the apparently low-tech look of the package: “Perfect for when you’re handling nuclear materials on a budget that doesn’t permit buying stickers.”
And, in response to an earlier photograph that showed a heavily dressed officer who went out to take a closer look at the package, Alexandra Pink wrote an Onion-worthy headline: “Berkeley police send out bundled up eskimo man to deal with sus package.”
Rebecca K said the package “looks like a prop from Back to the Future. Anyone spotted a souped-up Delorean or VW bus driven by Libyan terrorists lately?”
Said King Kaufman, in a bit of imaginary dialogue: “Bomb squad guy: ‘It’s a package of American cheese.’ Gourmet Ghetto PD dispatch: ‘CODE RED THIS IS NOT A DRILL!'”
This story was updated after publication due to the developing nature of the incident. Berkeleyside tweeted about the incident and posted about it on Facebook prior to this story. Stay tuned for updates.