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In wake of Boston explosions, Washington County officials urge residents to pay attention

April 16, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

Local law enforcement officials stressed Tuesday the public’s role in reporting suspicious activity and talked about what was being done locally in the wake of Monday’s bombings near the Boston Marathon finish line.

The bombs, which were constructed using pressure cookers packed with material such as metal shrapnel, nails and ball bearings, killed three people and wounded more than 170, the Associated Press reported.

“It starts with the public and it starts with that suspicious call, that 911 call,” Hagerstown Police Chief Mark Holtzman said. “And we do not mind. You’re not bothering the police when you call them with something.”

Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore urged people to call authorities if they see something out of the ordinary.

Warning signs include someone making subversive comments during a conversation, or via online social media outlets such as Facebook or Twitter, Mullendore said.

“They need to make law enforcement aware of it,” he said.

Although the sheriff’s office always is vigilant, there’s no way to completely protect against a terrorist attack, Mullendore said.

“Look at how many officers were (in Boston) at a controlled event, and it still happened,” Mullendore said.

Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said troopers are asking people to let them know if they see something suspicious. If that happens, people can call 911 or the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center at 1-800-492-TIPS (8477).

Mullendore said there’s no evidence at the moment pointing to a terrorist threat here.

“There’s really nothing to indicate any nexus in Maryland or our area,” he said.

Intelligence and information are the first crucial steps to finding the root of incidents, but making plans to mitigate any potential future threats is something that always is on the mind of authorities, Holtzman said.

“It’s really just critical that everyone keeps their eyes open, especially in places that are crowded,” he said. “... Each (event) is different ... but law enforcement certainly takes everything into account when it comes to planning.”
 
Mike Spinnler, race director for the annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon held each November in Washington County, was part of a group of about 20 people from the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club who attended the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Everyone in the local group was OK after the bombings, some members have said.

Spinnler said Tuesday that ultramarathon officials would brainstorm some precautions for the “unthinkable.” The JFK 50 Mile takes runners onto the Appalachian Trail and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park towpath as well as onto paved roads.

“It’s one of those things,” Spinnler said. “If evil wants to accomplish something, it’s difficult to stop it over an event like a long bicycle race or a foot race.”

Washington County Board of Commissioners President Terry L. Baker said he called Spinnler on Monday afternoon and was assured everyone in the local athletic club was accounted for after the bombings.

“It certainly does raise a lot of concern for myself for the athletes, for the citizens, for the directors that put on and host these types of events,” Baker said. “But I think after the investigation’s completed there in the Boston situation, I think our sheriff’s department and our community will come together and devise a plan that’s going to do as best we can to assure the safety of anybody who participates in an event in Washington County.”

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Tuesday that the focus in the local school system has been on the active shooter scenario in light of the Newtown, Conn., shooting in December, but school system officials are making sure principals get the message to broaden their outlook to anything that could be a threat to students.

The Boston attack “is a horrific act. There’s no doubt about that,” Wilcox said.

School system officials can’t change everything they do when something happens as close as Boston, but Wilcox said the safety and security manager did check with a number of principals to make sure they were being extra vigilant.

Security will be discussed during Thursday’s meeting of principals, he said.

Shipley said troopers have been directed to increase vigilance, especially at areas around critical infrastructure.

Shipley said he couldn’t talk about specific locations for security reasons, but they include places of vital importance.

Staff writers Don Aines, Dan Dearth and C.J. Lovelace contributed to this story.

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