MOUNT VERNON – Around 4 p.m. Sunday, police officers in Mount Vernon responded to a call about two suspicious packages at Phillips Park.
They were wrapped in tin foil, located on the table underneath the pavilion. The caller spotted them while walking on the Kokosing Gap Trail.
For the next three hours, as snow blanketed the city and rumors swirled online, an investigation ensued. The Columbus Division of Police bomb squad was called in, including a K-9 unit, and detectives conducted an x-ray analysis.
In the end, however, the packages were found to be far more delicious than deadly; far more scrumptious than sinister.
They were, in fact, two loaves of banana bread.
"The end result is interesting," Mount Vernon Police Chief Robert Morgan said. "And some people will say it's wasteful or comical, or something like that; but it is not.
"In the climate we live in these days, better to be safe than sorry. We take precautions, and we do it not to be wasteful or frivolous, but we do it to protect the public."
MVPD Patrolman Matthew McDonald was the first officer on the scene that day, arriving less than 20 minutes after the initial call. In his incident report, filed later that evening and obtained by Knox Pages, McDonald explained how the situation unfolded.
"I observed the items from my cruiser using binoculars and observed the items completely wrapped in aluminum foil and sitting side-by-side," he wrote. "Based on my military background and experience with explosive devices, I observed these two items to be suspicious due to being wrapped in aluminum foil, which is commonly used to keep radio frequency out of the explosive devices."
While McDonald said "the items appeared to be in the shape of loaves of bread," this only added to his suspicions, "due to the weather conditions and the unlikeliness that someone would have left these items at the park."
McDonald spoke to several witnesses near the park and determined the packages were likely left on the table between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. They were first spotted by a trail patron that afternoon.
"(He) observed the packages and touched the top of one of them and observed that the top was soft," McDonald said, "but was suspicious so he didn't mess with it any further and continued on his hike."
McDonald then notified his supervisor, who arrived at the scene and observed the items herself. MVPD lieutenants advised McDonald to call the Columbus Division of Police bomb squad, given their resources and connections in the field.
"We don't have a bomb squad near us, but we have one in Columbus and one in Ashland that assist us," Morgan explained. "So our guys got on the phone, explained to them what we had and their concerns, and those guys were like, 'We better come down and check this out.' "
Morgan said the conversation was deliberate and evidence-based. The MVPD sent Columbus officers photos of the packages, and their supervisors determined it would be worth a trip to investigate.
"It wasn't just a snap of the fingers, 'Let's call the bomb squad.' " Morgan said. "We had conversations back and forth to see if it was something that needed to be looked at. We determined that it was, so we did."
By 4:54 p.m., the Columbus bomb squad was en route. By 5:12 p.m., according to McDonald, the scene had been secured.
The bomb squad arrived just after 6:30 p.m. Detectives from Unit 17 used x-ray technology to investigate the packages.
"They advised me that the items were banana bread wrapped in aluminum foil," McDonald reported. "I advised dispatch that the scene was safe."
According to Morgan, the assistance from the Columbus Division of Police came free-of-charge.
"It doesn't cost us anything," he said, noting it had been several years since the MVPD last requested assistance. "It's kind of a service Columbus graciously provides to the outlying area."
The bread was ultimately thrown out, Morgan said.
"We have no idea who left it there or why they did what they did," he added.
While the packages turned out to be harmless, Morgan said he was proud of the way his officers handled the incident. The packages had been found in a public place, he noted, which warranted additional urgency.
"I believe we're doing our due diligence," Morgan said. "We're doing what we need to do, or feel we need to do, to keep the community and our officers safe."