Panel: 4 heard fake hostage alert in Jefferson City elevator

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 | 6:53 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — More than two dozen unauthorized calls were placed into the elevators of an office building near the Missouri Capitol, including three that falsely warned of a hostage situation and triggered a police lockdown, an investigation concluded Wednesday.

Police swarmed the downtown Jefferson City office building Nov. 10 after an employee reported that a voice from an elevator speaker warned of a hostage situation on the fifth floor. The building's alarm company was notified and contacted police, who moved through each floor.

The Missouri Public Service Commission, the building's largest tenant, concluded that four people shortly before 10 a.m. on Nov. 10 heard a hostage warning. It reportedly came from a male voice and was heard in different elevators at about the same time. In all, 25 unauthorized calls were placed into the building elevators from Nov. 10 until their phone number was changed Dec. 1.

Workers were asked not to respond to comments made through the elevator speakers. Those who heard calls sometimes reported that they could not understand what was being said. Others said they heard profanity, menu advertisements, heavy breathing, "evil" laughing and someone repeatedly saying "hello" or "yes." Some were able to record the messages.

A spokeswoman for the alarm company, Sonitrol, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

According to the report, when Sonitrol was asked by the building's owner for information about the security services it provides, a supervisor said in a Nov. 17 e-mail: "We will fully cooperate with any police investigation of this incident. However, given the conflicting accounts in the media surrounding this event, we feel that a review of the information should be conducted by the authorities and not independently by the parties."

A partially redacted copy of the commission's findings was released Wednesday. Public Service Commission Chairman Robert Clayton, who forwarded a copy to Gov. Jay Nixon, said the investigation suggests that the agency's employees acted "appropriately and professionally."

"While we eventually learned that the event was a hoax perpetuated by others outside the building, it is reassuring to know that mid-Missouri has a professional and prepared law enforcement team ready to act in an emergency," he wrote.

Portions of the report were blacked out to preserve the privacy of the commission's staff and to avoid detailing security procedures.

The false hostage reports prompted police to block vehicle and pedestrian traffic for several blocks in downtown Jefferson City while a state Highway Patrol helicopter circled overhead. More than 150 people were evacuated from the office building.

The commission's report also included recommendations from the agency's staff about possible changes to handling emergencies. Those suggestions included providing more information and direction to staff during an incident, periodic updates, keeping the building's floor plan available for emergency responders, and not disclosing the location of the agency's five commissioners to the media during an emergency.


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