Suspicious package person of interest


'Person Of Interest' Sought In Rice Cooker Bomb Scare

August 16, 2019 - 3:15 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — A "person of interest" is being sought after three suspicious devices, which turned out to be rice cookers, were found on a Chelsea street and at the Fulton Street subway station, prompting the evacuation of the busy transit stop and disrupting service on several subway lines during the Friday morning rush hour. 

Police swarmed the station, which is a few blocks from the World Trade Center, around 7 a.m. when a subway rider approached a pair of NYPD counterterrorism officers on patrol to report a suspicious package.

One device was found on the mezzanine and another on the 2/3 platform.

The NYPD's Bomb Squad Unit investigated and determined they were both empty rice cookers, not explosives, but authorities are looking into whether they were deliberately placed there. 

"The suspicion is that they were placed there to suggest that they were electronic devices and possible bombs,'' Gov. Andrew Cuomo told WCBS 880's Wayne Cabot and Paul Murnane.  "This is a frightening world we live in, and all of these situations have to be taken seriously because God forbid one day --- it's a real device. We learned the hard way after 9/11, and we are prepared.''

The MTA suspended service on the 2 and 3 lines between Chambers Street and Atlantic Avenue. Several other lines bypassed the Fulton Street stop.

Around 8 a.m., the Bomb Squad responded to 16th Street and 7th Avenue in Chelsea, where a third empty rice cooker was discovered aboveground near a trash can. 

Hilary Bildstein encountered the scene heading to work.

"We live in a time where everyone is super scared and any time there's a threat we have to put our guard up," she said.

By 9:45 a.m. the white crime scene tape was cleared and crosstown traffic was moving.

Suspicious package in Chelsea
Tom Kaminski/WCBS 880

No injuries were reported in either incident.

It wasn't clear if the two incidents were connected, but Senior NYPD official John Miller said all three rice cookers are the same make, year and model.

Police are trying to identify a man with a shopping cart who was caught on surveillance video putting cookers in two locations in the Fulton Street subway station.

"We reviewed video at the scene we do see a male white between 20s and 30s with dark hair and a shopping cart, he places the cooker on the upper level and then on the lower level," Miller said, stopping short of calling the man a suspect. "Obviously we'd like to speak to this person."

Miller said it was still unclear whether the man was intentionally trying to alarm the public or "discarding items he was no longer interested in.''

"As you all know there are people with shopping carts who pick up things on the street and put them back down on the street and that's kind of a factor of urban life," Miller said. "I don't know what the deliberate act is, whether it was to create fear and alarm on the part of the public or whether he was discarding items that he was no longer interested in."

Anyone with information in regard to the incidents or the identity of the individual is asked to call the NYPD's Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477).
Mayor Bill de Blasio thanked first responders for their "quick work" and New Yorkers for "keeping calm and patient" during the situation.

He says investigations are underway.

"This just shows the benefit of everyone working together," Transit President Andy Byford said. "We have around 6 million riders on the subway every day, and that's 6 million pairs of eyes and ears."

In September 2016, 30 people were injured when a pressure-cooker bomb was detonated in Chelsea and in December 2017 a would-be suicide bomber set off a homemade pipe bomb in an underground passageway at the Times Square subway station.

Download the RADIO.COM app + favorite WCBS 880 for breaking news, traffic and weather alerts.