A suspicious device found on a residential lawn in Palo Alto Friday, Aug. 17, was at first suspected of being an acid bomb by a Santa Clara County Bomb Squad investigator.
But after it was detonated, the device was determined to have been an object used to produce narcotics, Palo Alto police Agent Marianna Villaescusa said.
A resident in the 700 block of Maplewood Avenue called police at about 2:47 p.m. He had discovered a 12-ounce plastic soda bottle wrapped in gauzy fabric with metal clamps around it. He shook the bottle and felt what he thought was a liquid inside, Villaescusa said.
The property is near Sutherland Drive in Charleston Gardens. The neighborhood is bounded by Middlefield and East Charleston and San Antonio roads.
Palo Alto police called in the fire department and then alerted the Santa Clara County bomb squad. Officers barricaded the street and issued a shelter-in-place order for 17 residences, including the affected property. Seventy homes received AlertSCC phone messages with information about the incident.
Linda Dinneny, whose son lives at the address where the suspected bomb was found, said she noticed it Thursday afternoon on the lawn near the driveway.
"I thought, 'Wow, that's interesting. It had a teeny hole in the middle,'" she said.
Dinneny said she thought perhaps the device was made by a youth. She sniffed it and did not notice anything inside, she said.
Sutherland Drive resident Pete Squire said he received two calls through the alert system advising him to remain indoors.
"It could be an old science project," he guessed.
But police sent photos to the bomb squad. Bomb Squad Sgt. Davis initially believed it to be an acid bomb, Villaescusa said. A robot was sent into the area to investigate, and for nearly six hours residents were not permitted to enter or exit their homes.
An investigator in a padded bomb-protection suit gingerly approached the device and X-rayed it.
Investigators determined the device was not an acid bomb, but they were still concerned about what it might contain, Villaescusa said.
They brought in a device similar to an air rifle, pointed it at the bottle and exploded the bottle at about 7:20 p.m.
Bomb technicians and fire personnel then approached the remnant pieces of plastic.
Villaescusa said the device was inert, but it was used to produce illegal narcotics.
"This investigation has turned from a bomb investigation to a narcotics investigation," she said.
Police want to know why such equipment was in the neighborhood and how it got there. They will be working to determine if the drugs are being produced in the neighborhood, she said.
Villaescusa said although the device was not a bomb, it is still something used for an illegal purpose.
"It is an example of why it is important not to pick something up," she said.
People should never try to second guess what a suspicious object might be. They should always leave the determination to police and safety officials and seek to help their neighbors to be safe, she said.
Police opened the street at about 7:45 p.m. and planned to do a neighborhood check to see if anyone had noticed anything suspicious.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Palo Alto Police Department at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent via text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984.
An at-the-scene report as the incident unfolded can be found on Twitter.