Abandoned Briefcase Puts American Airlines Arena on Alert

Bomb squad detonated suspicious briefcase before Heat v. Wizards game


Before the Miami Heat took to the court against the Washington Wizards for the second round of NBA playoff games Sunday, officers with Miami's bomb squad were creating some excitement of their own at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Miami police gathered and geared up at around 9:30 a.m. Sirens blazed.

A large area was cordoned off with yellow police tape. Buses, taxis and other vehicles leaving the Port of Miami-Dade were directed southbound on Biscayne Boulevard. All the attention was focused on a gleaming silver briefcase that sat suspiciously alone on a short, concrete column near the arena entrance.

After inspecting it, a member of the bomb squad, clad in a 100-pound, green-colored bomb suit, rigged the case with a special explosive device.

Onlookers and arena employees watched from a safe distance at Bayside Marketplace.

Boom!

In a smoky instant, the case was safely blown open.

It appeared to contain audio recording equipment, likely left by a news reporter covering the 3:30 p.m. game, police said.

The ticket booth at the arena had not yet opened when Miami police arrived at the scene. Some fans were already in line. Employees were just trickling in.

"There really wasn't a whole lot of people in the building," arena manager Alex Diaz said. "I think the evacuation was more of a precaution." Traffic congestion created some noise as impatient drivers honked their horns repeatedly. Security guard Eddy Johnson was heading in to start his shift and watched the scene unfold from the Bayside parking lot.

He said he and his colleagues were trained to look out for suspicious packages, but the bomb squad in action provided an interesting spectacle.

"This is exciting," Johnson said. "I've never seen anything like it before."

Rafael Masferrer, a sergeant with the bomb squad, said such operations have become routine since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The squad detonates between 14 and 17 abandoned packages a month, Masferrer said.

On Saturday, the squad was called to the Rickenbacker Causeway to destroy what Masferrer described as a car key wrapped with wires to look like a bomb.

"It looked like some kind of hoax," he said.

Last week, the squad was outside a Starbucks on Miracle Mile dealing with an abandoned gym bag. After police detonated the bag, men's underwear and shaving cream littered the sidewalk.

Masferrer said police have no choice but to take such packages seriously.

'It's not a matter of 'if' but 'when' one of these things turns out to be dangerous," he said.