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House evacuated, bomb squad called

House security officer Gary Spadafora tells participants at a “death-with-dignity” news conference on the House lawn to move across the street. The House was evacuated for about a half hour. Photo by Bill Coates

The Arizona House of Representatives was evacuated shortly after noon today and a police bomb squad was called to the building after a representative who had recently been threatened over legislation she was sponsoring unexpectedly received a suspicious package.
After about 40 minutes, the building was cleared and employees and lawmakers were allowed to return to their offices.
A House spokesman said the building was evacuated on the recommendation of the House’s security personnel and the Department of Public Safety.
Phoenix Police responded to the threat at the legislative building. A bomb-sniffing dog did not alert officers to the presence of an explosive device, so the packages were opened. Inside, officers found papers.
House Speaker Jim Weiers said he agreed to the DPS request that the building be evacuated.
“We did not feel comfortable…because of the unknown origin [of the packages]. It’s better to take a bit of prevention,” he said.
House activity was delayed for 25 minutes today because of the evacuation.
Recently, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-15, introduced legislation that would prohibit groups like the Minuteman Project from patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border. The group does so to enforce federal law and is comprised of “Americans doing the job Congress won’t do,” according to its Web site.
Two days ago, Sinema said she had received numerous threats of physical and sexual assault via e-mail from people who objected to the proposed legislation. She said she forwarded the messages to the FBI and intended to provide them to the state’s Department of Public Safety.
Sinema said the incident reinforces the need for prohibiting such groups from performing federal duties.
“It just really makes the point,” she said, adding the groups often attract “fringe elements” that are prone to violence.
She said the package was a white cardboard box with her address handwritten on it.
“It didn’t look like a professional package,” she said, adding the return address was unfamiliar and from rural Arizona, where many of the threatening e-mails originated.
Despite telling her assistant to ask House security to open the package, she said she didn’t immediately connect the evacuation with the package, which she said was not particularly threatening.
“I wasn’t scared until they came by and said to get out of the building,” Sinema said. “Then I got scared.”
Since reporting the threats, Sinema has received special protection from both the Phoenix Police and the Department of Public Safety.

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