Bomb scare halts bustle at Yokota
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Airman 1st Class Heather Norris told her co-workers at the 374th Communications Squadron she had to run an errand and would return in about 10 minutes.
But shortly after 12:15 p.m., she was stopped by base security forces as she drove along Airlift Avenue.
“They wanted to use my car as part of the blockade,” Norris said. “My 10 minutes quickly turned into an hour. But understanding these circumstances, I think I’m OK.”
Norris was among those for whom life in the heart of Yokota came to a virtual standstill Thursday afternoon when a bomb threat scribbled on a note was found on the windshield of a car parked next to Building 316.
Sitting next to the wing’s headquarters, Building 316 houses the 374th Mission Support Group leadership and base education office.
The vehicle’s owner alerted security forces, who quickly evacuated the area and established a 1,000-foot safety perimeter.
Buildings 314, 315 and 316 were emptied, as was Yokota Community Center, the post office, Family Support Center, bowling alley, Community Bank and Burger King. Airlift Avenue, Davis Street and Crabb Avenue were shut down between Tunner and Spaatz streets.
Normally a bustling daytime locale with people filling sidewalks, streets and parking lots, the area was deserted by early afternoon.
“Traffic was diverted away from the 1,000-foot cordon,” said 1st Lt.Tom Wenz, 374th Airlift Wing public affairs chief. “They established a perimeter around the area.”
Fussa gate, the main entry point to Yokota, was closed for traffic control, Wenz said. All other gates remained open.
Officials declined to disclose the note’s contents or discuss its possible source, saying only that the matter is being investigated.
“We’re not going to speculate on exactly what the threat was,” Wenz said. “It’s just a bomb-threat note on a windshield. What or who the target was is not something we can determine at this time.”
If nothing else, it was certainly a disruption for base residents.
When the call came to evacuate, 1st Lt. Jessica Rose, 374th Maintenance Group executive officer, was in Building 314 prepping for next week’s Unit Compliance Inspection.
“They said to go to the YCC but that was also being evacuated,” she said. “So we walked all the way to Fussa gate.”
The group stood outside in the cold, biting wind for roughly an hour before officials announced people could seek refuge in the West Chapel, Outdoor Recreation Center and Enlisted Club.
Master Sgt. Johnny Jones, a recent arrival at Yokota who also sought shelter in the Enlisted Club, said he fully understood the caution being exercised by base authorities.
“When it happened, I knew exactly what was going on,” said Jones, whose military career has included stops in England, Spain and Germany. “I knew it’d be hours and hours. That’s just part of life overseas.”
People were permitted to leave the staging areas but many had been stranded because their vehicles were parked inside the cordoned-off zone. While school buses departed on time in the afternoon, the Kanto Express — the base shuttle system — was halted. West side-bound school buses were detoured off-base to get children around the cordoned area and home.
At 4:15 p.m., when the command post determined it was safe to re-enter the buildings and normal base activity resumed, officials still offered few clues about the threat.
“We don’t know if an individual, group or building was targeted in the note,” said spokeswoman 2nd Lt. Jessica Martin. “We don’t have any specifics on who wrote it or why. It’s under investigation. All we know is it’s safe to resume work and return to the buildings that were evacuated.”