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Two suspicious items in front of Q2 building detonated by Billings police, who suspect ‘scare tactic’

Posted at 8:22 PM, Oct 29, 2018
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:51:15-04

BILLINGS- Police detonated a suspicious tote box and a second device that looked like an explosive Monday night outside the KTVQ studio in downtown Billings.

Both items had been dropped outside a side entrance of the Q2 main office at 3203 Third Ave. N. by an unidentified man earlier that afternoon. Neither of the devices were determined to be actual explosives, no one was evacuated and no Q2 property was damaged.

Police blocked off North 32nd Street between Third and Fourth Avenue North for about two hours while they brought in their bomb squad. Police deployed a bomb-squad robot to detonate the plastic tote first around 8:30 p.m. It contained old clothing, a computer keyboard and other random assorted items.

The second device was wrapped in electrical tape, wires and what looked to be batteries and a timer, according to news director Jon Stepanek, who first spoke with the unidentified man and saw the devices.

Billings Police Sgt. Jason Gartner said the package and second device appeared to be a “scare tactic” designed to “disrupt news operations.”

“We deployed all of the bomb squad robots, and it was able to go up and evaluate and get the device. There were components on the outside of the device that looked like they could be components that you would see consistent with an IED,” Gartner told Q2 News.

“With that information, and we also had a shot that we were able to take with our disrupter on our robot, we fired a water shot at the device and disassembled it on site. It’s hard to tell what the intentions are from who made it, but again I think the intentions are to raise alarm and cause people to feel uncomfortable and with recent events that have happened nationwide. It’s hard to tell if that’s what motivated an individual to do something like that or not,” Gartner said.

The incident began at 4:49 p.m., when the man, who was tall, slender and wearing a black sweat shirt, appeared at the east entrance of the building with the devices. He was approached by Stepanek, who asked him what he was doing.

Stepanek said the man told him “this is for you,” and that no one cared about him. The man then left and walked north on North 32nd Street past the YMCA. Stepanek then called police because he didn’t know what was inside the tote.

Billings police arrived on the scene around 6:30 p.m. and called the bomb squad. When the squad detonated the tote box, employees were directed into the basement and a separate wing of the building for safety.

The detonation of the second device took place in the parking lot north of the building. One Q2 employee was directed to leave his office, while others were watching the operation from the street.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI are assisting in the investigation, and the suspect has not been identified.

Both the MTN Nine O’clock News, which is produced by Q2 in Billings, and the Q2 10 o’clock New were aired without any disruptions.

In an email to staff, Stepanek thanked the staff for responding in a “responsible manner” through the night.

“It’s important to be aware of our surroundings today.  Keeping our staff safe will always be first.  If you see anything suspicious, say something.  I’m pleased this situation ended how it did.  It gives me a stronger resolve to protect our staff and our mission to report the news,” he wrote.

Reporting by Zoe Zandora and Erik Olson, Q2 News

Previous updates:

Update 10:25 p.m. Billings Police Sgt. Jason Gartner said the package appeared to be a “scare tactic” designed to distupt news operations.”

Update 9:56 p.m. All police are gone from the front of the Q2 building but are continuing their investigation.

Update 9:45 p.m. The street is no longer blocked, but the bomb squad vehicle remains out front.

Update 9:25 p.m. The robot blew up an item that was inside the box that had flown into the parking lot.

An officer on the scene said it had wires in it, but police did not say it was a bomb or explosive device. The item was destroyed without causing damage to anything else.

Update 8:50 p.m. Billings police destroyed the plastic tote out front in what appeared to be an explosion.

Employees were never evacuated, but were told to move downstairs or into a separate wing of the building. A loud noise could be heard from the basement.

The street remains blocked off.

BILLINGS- Police have blocked 32nd Street North between Third Avenue North and Fourth Avenue North in front of the KTVQ building after a suspicious clear plastic tote was left on the station’s side entrance.

The Billings Police Department bomb squad is on the scene. No one has been evacuated from the KTVQ building or surrounding businesses.

About 4:45 p.m., a man was seen leaving the box on the stoop at the side entrance. He was seen heading north past the YMCA building.

Just after 8:30 p.m., a Billings Police Department robot was used to remove the tote from the area.

This is a developing story.

A Billings Police Department robot is being used to remove the tote. photo by Justin Hosa/ Q2 News
The plastic tote left in front of the Q2 door.