Bomb Squad Defuses Turnip

Props to the writer who came up with the first sentence of the story:

A raw turnip was at the root of a bomb scare that last for hours at a law office.

And a follow-up.

Posted on March 18, 2008 at 11:30 AM • 41 Comments

Comments

dragonfrogMarch 18, 2008 12:01 PM

The last line of the followup is pretty sweet too.

And nobody accused anybody of terrorism, or even suggested that they should know better than to send parcels by mail "in this post-9/11 world".

SnarkMarch 18, 2008 12:34 PM

That last line of the followup ("I’m now on constant alert against this and other rooted vegetables...") is fab.

Note that Fort Wayne is a lot smarter than Boston (Boston would have shut down vegetable markets and confiscated all the turnips, while Fort Wayne...makes jokes!)

Maybe there's hope for us "in this post-9/11 world" after all!

Veggie SquadMarch 18, 2008 12:37 PM

@Brianary

A few weeks ago in my hometown high school the principal learned a kid brought a homemade firecracker into school. He called the kid in, and the kid surrendered it to the principal.

With the firecracker safely in hand, he proceeded to cancel all classes and evacuate 2000 kids and faculty from the campus.

Now I think that was just stupid.

This story, on the other hand, is hilarious. I don't think either the law office or the police did anything stupid. It's just funny that a truly suspicious package turned out to be a turnip.

Maria HelmMarch 18, 2008 12:49 PM

I found it interesting that *the sender* was thought to be “volatile” , but was delivering a turnip wrapped in lettuce green tissue in a gift bag.

Meanwhile, the lawyer, GiaQuinta, who "is also president of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board and a former Fort Wayne city councilman"...grossly over-reacts and calls the bomb squad.

It just shows how out of touch "officials" are with how normal people behave, even "volatile" normal people. Just because someone is easily angered, or doesn't agree with their lawyers, doesn't mean they are a threat.

AnonymousMarch 18, 2008 12:59 PM

It was all a permissions problem. The law firm should never have given that client root access to their office.

bobMarch 18, 2008 1:02 PM

Of all the times for it to NOT be a bomb, why did it have to be at an attorney's office!

Alan PorterMarch 18, 2008 1:12 PM

Interesting that they did not know who the intended recipient was. You would think their robot would take some pictures before they blew it up with a water cannon. If it *had* been a bomb, wouldn't they want to follow the lead given by the address label?

Fort WaynianMarch 18, 2008 1:38 PM

Ha, I considered sending this your way, but thought it was a little too silly. Glad to see somebody did, though.

John RidleyMarch 18, 2008 1:59 PM

@Veggie Squad:
That principal should have the cost of 1/2 day's operations for the school deducted from his pay, and be happy if the parents don't sue him to recoup time lost from work to deal with picking their kids up at a weird hour and dealing with that mess.

There need to be penalties for making clearly the wrong choice here. The "never back up and say 'false alarm, there's no danger'" policy just leads to idiocy like Boston.

AwesomeRobotMarch 18, 2008 2:21 PM

This story isn't too bad, so long as the turnip-gifter doesn't get charged with planting a hoax bomb.

Mary KayMarch 18, 2008 2:27 PM

You know, if that guy followed up the turnip with a *real* bomb how many of the laughed at folks in the law office would be willing to call in the bomb squad again. I shall have to remember this if I ever want to blow somebody up.

MKK

Rich WilsonMarch 18, 2008 3:07 PM

It sounds like the decision was based on the sender, not the package. Without knowing the details, or just how 'volatile' the sender was, some level of precaution was probably warranted.

They only knew it was a turnip after they opened it. Before that it was 'strange package from volatile guy who has an axe to grind with us'.

AnonymousMarch 18, 2008 5:33 PM

@Rich Wilson

"It sounds like the decision was based on the sender, not the package. "

From the quoted article:

"[...] after opening a U.S. Postal Service box [...]"

There ya go.

Karl LembkeMarch 18, 2008 10:06 PM

Of course, the whole panic will always be justified by the claim that you never know when a real bomb will turnip.

bad JimMarch 19, 2008 2:34 AM

I'm reminded of a story by ETA Hoffmann in which the villain turns out to be a mangel-wurzel. In my experience it's rare that evil is the root of vegetables.

WooMarch 19, 2008 4:06 AM

Perhaps they should now breed turnips that have an ingrown "this is not a bomb" mark... at least until someone really puts a stick of dynamite into a turnip.

Moshe YudkowskyMarch 19, 2008 5:26 AM

In other words, the person who called the bomb squad was *correct*: this was an out-of-the-ordinary package.

We have only the sketchiest description of what the package looked like. Since the sender has an alleged history of odd behavior, I suspect the package contained cues that something was off kilter. I'm sure that Bruce, like myself, has picked up an envelope from the daily mail and without opening it knew it contained a crank letter.

I frankly don't understand the implied mockery of the person who called the bomb squad. According to the study Bruce quoted in "Why Some Terrorist Attacks Succeed and Others Fail," members of the "observant public" are one of the best ways attacks will be thwarted; yet every time they fail to exhibit psychic powers and call in a false report -- an inevitable consequence unless we transform ourselves into a police state -- they are mocked.

bobMarch 19, 2008 7:11 AM

@Mary Kay: For many years in the military we would have bomb threat drills where we all dutifully would march over to the [selected marshaling point] and stand around waiting for the "all clear".

I always figured if I was the bad guy (this was back when "drugs" not "terrorism" was the root-password to the constitution, to misquote Bruce; so bad guys were spies not terrorists) I would call in a fake bomb threat, watch through binoculars to see where the meeting point was, then a week later put a bomb THERE and call in another threat.

You could even tell them when the bomb was going to go off (they always tell you to ask them that, its the FIRST question on AF Form 440) and it would make it worse, not better. To compound it even further, on my base the bomb threat location was the firehouse, so you would get the "first responders" with the same bomb and cause that much more havoc.

AndrzejMarch 19, 2008 7:17 AM

@Moshe:

"... yet every time they fail to exhibit psychic powers and call in a false report -- an inevitable consequence unless we transform ourselves into a police state -- they are mocked."

I think you (well, or I) are missing something here: these false reports are exactly what's turning our country into a police state.

"Report anything suspicious", "Report anyone suspicious", "Report your neighbors", ... and "Report your family for their suspicious behavior" is exactly what happens (and is encouraged) in governments like North Korea (and perhaps China?).

I suppose there's no real "terrorist" in this story (at least it isn't mentioned in the articles), but, well, if the package-handler couldn't distinguish a turnip from something that is even remotely a bomb, he (or she) wasn't very observant now, was he? The only thing I see in this story is extreme cowardice---with nothing in their applicable to anti-terrorism. After all, how often do you see the suspected terrorist's name and return address on a package that does turn out to be a bomb (or anthrax)?

Andre LePlumeMarch 19, 2008 8:53 AM

The first sentence of the article is nothing compared to the last sentence of the followup:

'“I’m now on constant alert against this and other rooted vegetables,” GiaQuinta said.'

That is classic. Nice to see the man has a sense of humor.

Moshe YudkowskyMarch 19, 2008 10:46 AM

@Andrzej:

I think you miss the point. Citizens have always been the first line of defense against crime; they see suspicious behavior and report it to the police. When this breaks down -- when someone can be murdered in the street and no one cares enough to call the police, much less intervene -- then authorities will respond with schemes for universal surveillance (because voters will still complain about crime even as they stand aside from participation).

You write, "The package-handler couldn't distinguish a turnip from something that is even remotely a bomb." Clearly the package raised her suspicions; and I think you admit that a gift-wrapped turnip is an unusual package. Given that the sender was aberrant, then I suspect there were other cues as well -- odd sealing, scrawled lettering, something that raised her suspicions. Again, you fault her for not being able to psychically see into a sealed package and determine that no bomb was present.

And speaking from the fullness of personal experience, when you find a suspicious package you call in the experts to examine it.

HarryMarch 19, 2008 11:14 AM

When we received a suspicious package we put it outside, on the other side of a low brick wall, and forgot about it for a month. By the time we remembered it, the box had deteriorated and the contents - cookies - were revealed.

So in the end it was nothing. But in the beginning it was an unexpected package, wrapped badly, from an unknown source, with errors in both the sender's and recipient's addresses.

A friend received a similarly suspicious package. Since this was the early 1990s he opened it. It was a cubic foot of coke. The DEA and local police took it away and his house was broken into a week later.

AlexMarch 19, 2008 12:23 PM

there was a time when I ended up sending (in one week) a watermelon, a hand of bananas, and some pineapples through the mail (part of an inside joke).. I wonder what todays postmen or the persons receiving that type of package would do...

SnarkMarch 19, 2008 1:31 PM

Back in the dark ages (pre 9/11), I worked at a newspaper.

Somebody would call in a bomb threat every month or so.

Never was a bomb.

AnonymousMarch 19, 2008 2:14 PM

@Moshe Yudkowsky

"And speaking from the fullness of personal experience, when you find a suspicious package you call in the experts to examine it."

I see suspicious packages all the time. I'd say that everyone, every day, spots things out of the ordinary.

Most anyone with a working brain ignores all of them. The less enlightened, the lonely, the ones who don't give a damn, they call in the so-called "experts". But even the experts are getting pissed with all the activity:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19816177/

800 to 37000! And with no noticeable increase in bombing activity at that.

I'd say a law office, by the nature of their business, is going to receive more than a few unwanted packages like this: there are so many ways of of saying "f-you!"

My guess is that this wasn't the first from this guy (how else would they know him as 'volatile'), and likely got sick of him, so whoever it was decided to convert their irritation into 'fear' and called the cops.

AndrzejMarch 19, 2008 3:54 PM

@Moshe:

"I think you miss the point. Citizens have always been the first line of defense against crime; they see suspicious behavior and report it to the police."

Assuming, of course, crime rate is actually going up. I see no evidence to corroborate that fact, while I see rising incidents of police brutality (i.e. tasers) and more and more useless inconveniences at airports and at the border. We don't need more suspicious citizenry, we need a citizenry that's tired of these abuses of power "in the post-9/11 America", if we are to stop the coming Police States of America.

For most parts of America, crime isn't the problem (at least not as much of a one as it used to be), and neither is actual terrorism (unless you count government fear-mongering as terrorism). It's what's happening in fear of these hypothetical scenarios that seldom happen.

timMarch 19, 2008 9:22 PM

In A.D. 2008, lunch was beginning.
- What happen ?
Somebody set up us the turnip.

Ah, nothing to see here. *goes back to painting dynamite to look like carrots*

tleeMarch 20, 2008 11:14 AM

Hello Everyone,

I am the infamous “Turnip Bomber”. There is much more to the story than what was portrayed simply as someone being “sued”. My wife and I purchased a property where fraud was committed to reach a contract and complete a sale to obtain the proceeds. We were trapped in civil action between two shareholders of a corporation owning the property. We could not dispose of the property in any way, did not receive income pursuant to the contract, and were given legal advice which led to being “sued”. We did nothing to anyone and have basically been told we no recourse – I fail to believe that. We need help – someone or somewhere we can have review our case and advise us. Our resources have been depleted and we do not have tens of thousands of dollars to buy it. There is much, much, more to this story that needs to be told. We purchased turnipbomb.com today with the hope of developing an advocacy site to help educate and support those who need legal services and help prevent what we have been through from happening to anyone else.

Thank You All!

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