Bomb squad called to Wal-Mart for ‘suspicious package’

TRIADELPHIA — Shoppers were forced to evacuate Wal-Mart at The Highlands on Friday as law enforcement evaluated a suspicious package discovered in the parking lot.

The item was later discovered to be a Sentry safe, which can be purchased at Wal-Mart stores. An X-ray examination by a bomb squad from Pittsburgh revealed the safe was empty.

The discovery nonetheless led to some tense moments inside the store, as law enforcement evacuated the building and blocked access to the parking lot. Officials set up orange cones and caution tape around the store to keep people at a safe distance while they awaited the bomb squad’s arrival.

That was the scene which greeted Wal-Mart employees arriving for their evening shift.

“I came to work and was told to just hang out in the parking lot,” said one worker as she stood waiting for news in the nearby Logan’s Roadhouse parking lot.

Other employees working in the area were curious about the commotion.

“I saw an ambulance from the back of the restaurant and thought someone may have died,” said Jason Lee Corrick, a server at Fusion Japanese Steakhouse.

Kathy Fugate was inside the store when the item was discovered. She said she was getting the oil in her vehicle changed at about 4 p.m. when she heard employees discussing not being able to go outside. One of them told her that someone had left a box or a suitcase in the parking lot and no one was being allowed to leave.

At about 4:40 p.m., Fugate said an announcement was made that customers should finish their shopping and check out within the next 15 minutes. She said an employee let her out of the store through one of the garage bays in the vehicle service department.

Ohio County Emergency Management Director Lou Vargo said a customer brought the safe to the attention of employees inside the store, who then called police. He said the item was about 100 feet away from the front of the building.

“We want people to go by the phrase ‘you see something, say something.’ They called us in and we took some very safe precautions,” Vargo said.

Officer Garrett Pugh of the Wheeling Police Department responded with the department’s explosives detection dog. That, combined with a review of surveillance footage, led officials to call in the bomb squad from Pittsburgh to evaluate the safe, Vargo said.

The squad arrived shortly after 5:30 p.m. and X-rayed the safe. The store reopened by about 6:20 p.m.

In addition to EMA officials and Wheeling police, responders included the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office and the Triadelphia and Valley Grove volunteer fire departments.

Ian Hicks contributed to this story.