Wal-Mart evacuated after bogus bomb threat

AMHERST – Police are investigating the origin of a prank 911 call, which caused the evacuation of a major retail and grocery store early Thursday night.

Several hundred customers were forced out of the Wal-Mart Supercenter at 85 Route 101A about 6 p.m. after police alerted store managers that the store was the target of a bomb threat.

No bomb was found, but the felony level hoax sent several hundred customers and employees out into the cold night air while police worked with store management to conduct a search.

“A sweep of the store was made and Wal-Mart staff determined the store to be safe,” said Amherst police Sgt. Mark Reams at about 7:45 p.m. shortly after the store was reopened to customers.

No police dogs were used in the sweep, he said.

Reams said 911 operators first alerted Amherst police at about 5:45 p.m. after operators there received the threat from a caller who identified the 24-hour Amherst store as a target.

A supervisor at the Concord 911 center said the caller was male and attempted to disguise his voice. Reams could not give any further information about the call or caller, but said an investigation is ongoing.

Along with police, Amherst fire crews responded to the store and blocked off both entrances to the large parking lot.

“Right now we are just trying to take care of our customers and employees,” store manager Tony Tiner said at about 6:30 p.m., shortly after the store was evacuated.

Although most of the store’s customers left the parking lot, store employees and several determined shoppers stood fidgeting in the frigid air or waited in their cars while police and store management searched the store.

Jeff Park was one of several workers who stood outside the store waiting to return to his job.

Park, who works as a photographer for a portrait studio located at the front of the store, said he had just finished working with a customer at about 6:30 p.m. when he noticed “a flock of people” walking out the door.

“I asked a cashier who I knew what was going on and she said the store was being evacuated due to a threat involving explosives,” Park said.

He said although the evacuation was orderly, people seemed slightly panicked.

The store was very busy at the time of the evacuation, he said.

“The parking lot was just crammed,” Park said.

Many shoppers who traveled to the 24-hour grocery and retail store chose to wait out the investigation rather than have to make the trip back.

Starr Covey, 27, of Hudson sat in her heated SUV with 3-year-old daughter, Nissi, and 1-year-old son, James, while waiting for the store to reopen.

“I don’t want to have to come back,” said Covey adding that she needed groceries.

Covey said she was in the fabric department with her two children when she heard an announcement for all store employees to respond to the front of the store.

Shortly after the announcement, Covey said an employee told her the store was being evacuated, but would not tell her why.

She said the evacuation appeared to be orderly, but that some people seemed anxious to her as she stopped to put jackets on her children at the front of the store.

“They said we’ve got to get out of the store now,” Covey said.

Store employees were first allowed to go back into the store at 7p.m.

Employees then worked for about 45 minutes to return items from abandoned shopping carts and baskets back to the appropriate places before store managers allowed customers to enter.

Reams said police would be reviewing a tape of the call in their investigation into the threat and would prosecute the offender if located.

“It is a serious offense,” Reams said.