St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said he was asked multiple times Tuesday whether changes need to be introduced following the discovery of an improvised explosive device (IED) at the Wedgewood Park tennis courts.
“The answer is no, because our system worked. The protocol that we have in place worked. … The fact was, because of our safety scans, we found that device.”
That’s the fact the city was highlighting a day after an IED was discovered by seasonal employees at approximately 10:15 a.m. as they conducted a scan of the area for safety hazards.
“They found it, they didn’t pick at it, they didn’t fiddle with it, they right away reported it to their supervisor, got the kids off the site, the (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary) were called, and everything flowed from there,” said the mayor. “So there’s no need to change anything, because our system works.”
According to the city, staff are trained to look for suspicious items and activity, and often talk about what to look for when conducting site checks. Such checks are scheduled to take place every morning at outdoor recreational facilities to make sure they are safe for recreation program users.
RNC Insp. Brian Dowden was reluctant Tuesday to tell reporters anything about how the explosive device was made or what it looked like, given the ongoing police investigation.
However, the second in command of the patrol services division for the Northeast Avalon did say when compared to IEDs commonly associated with armed conflict in the Middle East, the item discovered Monday does not compare.
“We frequently hear that term (IED) used, especially in the Far East where there’s a war going on and we hear tell of soldiers in particular (who) are killed by improvised explosive devices,” said Dowden. “This device, if it were to function, it would certainly not be to the magnitude you hear about frequently in the Far East.”
Dowden said no members of the public in the parking lot or the Wedgewood Park Recreation Centre were in any danger while officers conducted the investigation.
While the tennis courts were open to public use Tuesday, nobody was hitting balls when The Telegram dropped by that morning.
Darlene Ryan, who drives her daughter to the centre from Cape Broyle for swimming lessons, said the city should consider additional surveillance in light of Monday’s events.
Another woman entering the recreation centre told The Telegram she thought it was sad someone would consider targeting an area where children come to have fun.
O’Keefe said when he first heard a package had been discovered in Wedgewood Park, his initial reaction was fairly nonchalant.
“Living in a safe city and a safe province and a safe country, you kind of figure, yeah, well that’s something somebody threw in overnight.”
However, facilities surrounding the tennis courts, including the Wedgewood Park Recreation Centre, were evacuated once police arrived Monday morning.
Members of the explosive disposals unit used X-ray equipment and a robot to remove the device from the area.
Police later separated the IED using specialized tools, saving components of the device for use as evidence in the investigation, according to Dowden.
O’Keefe said it was shortly after 1 p.m. police identified the device as an IED. Shortly thereafter, senior management with the city met and, consulting with police, initiated efforts to scan other outdoor properties.
The city has in place procedures to look for potential safety hazards at outdoor facilities. A sample checklist for staff to watch for at parks and playgrounds includes sharp edges, vandalism, unsafe parts and “suspicious activity,” amongst other things.
The decision was made during a 3:30 p.m. meeting held prior to Monday’s city council meeting to close all outdoor recreational facilities for the evening while they were searched for the second time that day.
According to the city, many sites had already been scanned a second time by then, but with evening events set to start at 5 p.m., there was a concern resources were not available to finish the job by that time.
However, activities did continue at a number of sites. The Telegram reported Tuesday that soccer at King George V Park and baseball at St. Pat’s Ball Park went ahead as scheduled.
A reader posted on The Telegram website that a children’s event and a ball game also went ahead at Victoria Park.
In the case of King George V Park and St. Pat’s Ball Park, The Telegram was told Monday that staff at both facilities scanned the areas before the games proceeded.
“We’re leaseholders,” said
St. John’s Molson Baseball League president Mark Healy, “and, as such, we had the ability to make the decision to proceed with our games.”
O’Keefe said the city had no problem with either group using the fields so long as both were searched prior to game time.
“We simply said to the leaseholders, ‘This is what we found in our facilities. You should search and scan your facilities,’ which is what they did.”