Offices in Olympia, and its neighboring town Tumwater, have received six bomb threats since late September, resulting in evacuations and an ongoing investigation, the Washington State Patrol said.
OLYMPIA — As news spread about bombs sent to Democratic leaders and a national news organization Wednesday, Washington state officials grappled with the latest in a rash of bomb threats at state agency buildings.
Offices in Olympia, and its neighboring town Tumwater, have received six bomb threats since late September, resulting in evacuations and an ongoing investigation, said John Shaffer, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.
The latest threat came by phone about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, causing the evacuation of a state Department of Health (DOH) building in Tumwater, Shaffer said. The threats are believed to be related. By about 5:20 p.m., the building had been swept for potential threats and the all-clear had been given, with the office planning to reopen Thursday morning, a DOH spokeswoman said.
“While it’s frustrating to have our work interrupted, we are taking all necessary precautions to keep our staff safe,” DOH Secretary John Wiesman said in statement.
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The threat comes amid a tense political climate ahead of the midterm elections, and the discovery of bombs this week aimed for the homes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama and CNN’s New York headquarters, among others.
The rash of scares in Washington started Sept. 26, when a threat caused the evacuation of the Highways Licenses building on the Capitol campus, which houses both the Department of Licensing and part of the state Attorney General’s Office.
In October, two other bomb threats were phoned in to a different Attorney General’s Office building, in Tumwater. Through a spokesman Wednesday, Attorney General Bob Ferguson declined to comment.
Wednesday’s threat was actually the second made against DOH — the agency received its first threat Oct. 3.
Another incident on Oct. 18 was directed again at the Highways Licenses building, as well as the Department of Natural Resources, which also sits on the Capitol campus.
In a tweet Wednesday afternoon responding to the bombs discovered around the nation and the political climate, Washington State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich condemned political violence.
“Violence has no place in politics — plain and simple,” Heimlich wrote. “As Americans, we pride ourselves on our freedom of expression. If we lose the ability to disagree peacefully, we are losing a core value of our country’s identity.”
But for agency officials, threats are now part of daily life.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has received bomb threats before, said Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who oversees the agency.
Reports last year of gunshots fired near the DNR building — which were never substantiated, but forced evacuations — caused a re-evaluation of some security measures.
Franz said the agency has improved its communications to handle lockdown situations. And the building now has secure places located away from windows that are stocked with food and water so workers can find shelter in an emergency.
“This is something we’re familiar with, that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable,” said Franz.
Seattle Times staff reporter Heidi Groover contributed to this report.