Federal agents search Pa. apartment complex
FBI agents evacuated the apartment complex Tuesday evening.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Within hours of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D. C., the Pittsburgh FBI called the Youngstown Police Department bomb squad to assist in checking out a suspicious package at a Lawrence County apartment.
"We were assisted by postal officers who have equipment that does real-time X-rays," said Lou Ciavarella, a member of the bomb squad. "We determined that it wasn't a dangerous ordnance."
Ciavarella described the package as an odd-shaped box but said it wasn't clear if it had been mailed. He knew only the apartment resident's surname, Hussein.
Asked twice for squad: The FBI requested the bomb squad about 6 p.m. Tuesday and asked that it return Wednesday, Ciavarella said. After determining the package was harmless, bomb squad technicians checked the rest of the apartment, he said, declining to say what else was found.
The bomb squad technician declined to elaborate on the investigation and referred questions to the Pittsburgh FBI. FBI Special Agent Jeff Killeen, spokesman for the Pittsburgh bureau, refused to comment.
The apartment is in The Meadows, an upscale complex off Mitchell Road in Neshannock Township, just off state Route 60.
About eight hours before the FBI converged at the apartment, terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners and aimed them like missiles into the World Trade Center twin towers and Pentagon. Another plane crashed in western Pennsylvania.
The entrance to the complex was guarded Wednesday by Neshannock Township Police, who refused to allow anyone but residents inside.
Checked identification: Police officers had lists of those who live in the one-story, ranch style apartments and checked identification of everyone entering Meadowview Boulevard, which is bounded by two large red-brick walls. No-trespassing signs were posted on both sides -- something not there before Tuesday, residents said.
Police said they would arrest anyone entering the complex who was not a resident.
During the late afternoon and evening, carloads of men flashing badges from different federal agencies, including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Postal Service, went in and out of the apartment complex.
None would comment on why they were there.
Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino entered the complex at about 6 p.m. When he was leaving about an hour later, he said federal agents were preparing to enter an apartment.
Warrant: A federal warrant had been granted that evening, he said.
He would not comment on what the agents were searching for in the apartment.
"It's obviously something that's got ATF, the FBI and U.S. Postal Service interested," he said.
Mangino would not say if the search warrant was in any way related to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
"What happened yesterday is a devastating tragedy. I can't in any way, shape or form connect it to Lawrence County," he said.
People living near the apartment that FBI and other agents were searching said Wednesday evening that they were told agents would be there for at least another 24 hours.
Few knew the man who occupied the apartment, and his identity has not been released by the FBI.
"We've been here for three years and anytime anyone else moves in, I make a point of going over and talking to them," said Joe Harvey, who lives next to the apartment FBI agents searched. "I went there and tried to talk to him and he more or less ignored me. I haven't bothered with him since."
Harvey did not know the man's name and can't remember the last time he saw his neighbor.
Mangino said someone who lives or works in the apartment complex alerted police to something unusual about the apartment. Pennsylvania State Police responded and immediately turned it over to the FBI, he said.
Mangino did not know the nature of the police complaint.
A portion of the apartment complex was evacuated Tuesday evening and no one could enter the complex for a few hours.
Maureen DeGarmo, 19, who lives in The Meadows with her parents, said police turned her away from the entrance at about 11 p.m. She was allowed to enter at about 12:30 a.m., she said.
DeGarmo said her home is not near the apartment being searched by federal agents and she did not know the man who lived there.
Neighbors going in and out of the apartment complex said they were stunned by the FBI interest in their community, which is mostly filled with elderly residents and young married couples.
"Nobody has really told us what is going on. We are just hearing rumors," said Joanne Leonhardt, a nurse at St. Francis Hospital who has lived in The Meadows for four years.
Firefighters called: In addition to Neshannock Township police, township firefighters were called to the apartment complex Tuesday night and Wednesday evening, for about an hour each evening, said Fire Chief John DiCola Jr.
DiCola said the FBI agents did not reveal why they wanted to enter the apartment.
The fire trucks and firefighters remained on the street across from the apartment, he said.
"Our role was simply to be there when notified by the FBI. We're not dealing with a local problem or a local agency. We're dealing with issues that have affected the entire United States. It's not for me to question when the federal government asks for our assistance," he said.
XContributor: Vindicator Crime Reporter Patricia Meade