Note: Click the Gallery tab under the photo at right to see photos taken from immediately outside the Isthmus office Tuesday afternoon.
Madison Police have cordoned off a corner of the Capitol Square at South Pinckney Street and East Main Street after a suspicious backpack was discovered near newspaper boxes in front of Walgreen's, according to Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain.
A postal carrier witnessed smoke and flames emerging from the backpack and dumped water on it. In the photo at right, a pair of boots can be seen close to the backpack.
"At this point, we have no reason to believe it is a bomb," says DeSpain, saying a decision was made to seal off the area just to be safe. The police received a call about the object at 1:53 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, responding after the Madison Fire Departent was initially contacted about the flaming backpack.
Police are preventing pedestrians from entering the area. One man was given a stern lecture after crossing into the area for what an officer said was the third time. She told him she knows that adults sometimes need to hear things more than once.
"I didn't know," the man said, somewhat irritated.
At 3:45 pm, police shooed away bystanders and began moving back the perimeter.
"Apparently, they did see something that made them more suspicious, but I haven't been able to find out what it was," says DeSpain.
The postal worker tells Isthmus the backpack was emitting "smoke and fire." He says he doused it with a bottle of Gatorade he retrieved from his truck.
When asked his name, the postal worker declines. "I don't want to be part of this."
By 4:05 pm, the entire Isthmus office is within the cordoned off area. Police are not being super strict, however. They allowed one person to enter Isthmus to pick up a paper and another to move her car from behind the yellow caution tape.
Just before 4:30 pm, police were overheard saying an object in the backpack resembled a "pipe bomb" and that there were concerns that a "secondary device" had been found nearby. Officers have been dispatched to search garbage cans and other receptacles in the immediate area. No other suspicious objects were found, though.
The Dane County bomb squad destroyed the backpack in a series of two controlled detonations, the first coming shortly after 5 p.m. and the second about 20 minutes later in a pair of sharp booms that reverberated around downtown. "They've diffused and made safe the object that was found in or near the backpack," explains DeSpain.
Now they're going to process the scene," he continues, "and investigate what exactly was in the backpack and around the general area." DeSpain does not expect Capitol Square to reopen until investigators have completed their processing of the scene.
Madison police ask that anybody who saw somebody acting suspicious in the area on Tuesday or recognizes the backpack in the image above to contact Madison Area Crime Stoppers to share the information.