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Suspicious cylinders, bag outside St. Louis City Hall were harmless, chief says

Suspicious cylinders, bag outside St. Louis City Hall were harmless, chief says

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ST. LOUIS • Two suspicious cylinders and a bag left outside St. Louis City Hall on Tuesday morning were deemed harmless, and investigators don't know if they were left to cause a scare.

Police Chief Sam Dotson said two of the items were Co2 cylinders, the third was a bag or backpack. They were found at about 7 a.m. outside the building, and City Hall was immediately evacuated.

Bomb squad members x-rayed the items and determined they were safe. Dotson announced they were safe just after 11 a.m. Dotson said police were going to use dogs to continue a sweep of City Hall and the parking lot. They hope to finish their work by about 12:30 p.m. 

"In the post 9-11 world, we're very vigilant to what goes on downtown," Dotson said. 

Police are looking at surveillance footage to find who abandoned the items and if they were left to cause fear.

"We want to make sure we get to the bottom of whoever did this, whether it's a practical joke or something more sinister," Dotson said.

"The system worked today. What you see is a coordinated response," the chief added.

Police shut down City Hall after the first package — described initially as a "container" — was found at about 7 a.m. Tuesday leaning against a gate on the Clark Avenue side of City Hall.

The mayor's spokeswoman, Maggie Crane, said a total of three suspicious items were found — two cylinders and one bag. The items were found at three different entrances, she said, one on Tucker Boulevard, one on Clark and one on 13th Street.

Police shut down Market Street for two blocks between 14th Street and Tucker. 

Crane also said there was "no threat, so to speak, nothing verbal or written," just the items that were found.

The city's bomb squad, canine unit and Fire Department were at the scene. A bomb squad member outfitted in a protective suit tied a cord around one of the cylinders and pulled it toward him. It clanged as it came down the steps and rolled across a sidewalk and into the street. Men in polo shirts an slacks then carried it off.

Crane reported on Twitter that a city marshal was alerted to the first cylinder on the south side of City Hall, which prompted evacuations. Very few employees were inside, she said. Police then found the other two items.

Crane told reporters that it is "very likely" that whoever left the items behind were caught on surveillance video. "City Hall is very well covered with cameras," she said. Footage taken from cameras inside and outside of City Hall is being reviewed.

City Hall employees, media and onlookers all were herded at least across the street from City Hall.

The Board of Alderman was scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. for its first new session since the April 7 election. Lewis Reed, president of the Board of Aldermen, said the city must swear in the newly elected aldermen today. They usually conduct the ceremony in the board chambers. Because City Hall was closed, they chose to conduct the ceremony outside.

Some in the crowd said they didn't know if this was some kind of sick prank or something sinister.

Mayor Francis Slay at about 10 a.m. said on Twitter, "I am sorry that someone sought to inconvenience those with business in a public building."

Dotson told Fox 2 News, "What you saw this morning was an abundance of caution."

He noted that this happened just past the Boston Marathon and anniversaries of Oklahoma City and Waco. The FBI was on the scene of the City Hall scare this morning. Additional dogs came from the airport police. 

In the end, Dotson said, "There was no indication that either of the cylinders or the suspicious bag in any way could have done anybody any harm."

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