Police Say 13-Year-Old Boy in Netherlands Confessed to Making Call
by Neil Irwin And Allan Lengel, The Washington Post
Most bank branches in the District shut down yesterday in response to
bomb threat, later attributed to a 13-year-old boy calling from the
Netherlands, inconveniencing thousands of people on tax deadline day and
revealing continued local jitters over the threat of terrorism.
According to the FBI, someone from the Netherlands called the
Metropolitan Police Department on Sunday night and said a bomb would be
detonated at noon Monday at a national bank in the center of Washington.
Yesterday afternoon a 13-year-old boy confessed to Dutch authorities that
made the call, said Terrance W. Gainer, D.C. executive assistant police
The FBI said in a statement that while it did not give much credibility
to the call, the agency decided the threat was specific enough that it
should warn banks and recommend that employees be vigilant.
Most banks in the District went further, closing down altogether. The
eight biggest banks in the city, which account for 158 out of 193 branches
in the District, shut their doors for the day. Riggs National Corp., Bank
America Corp., Wachovia Corp., SunTrust Banks Inc., Citibank, Branch Bank
& Trust Co., Allfirst Bank and Chevy Chase Bank all closed their D.C.
branches, as did many smaller institutions.
Even before the revelation that the call may have been an adolescent
prank, FBI officials played down the bomb threat. "We wouldn't have told
them to close," said agency spokesman Chris Murray.
But officials of the banks that closed said their reaction came from
heightened worries over security that began with the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks and have only escalated amid recent suicide bombings in Israel.
"What was interesting was the number of institutions that just shut down
completely," said Kate Carr, chief executive of Adams National Bank in
Washington, which locked its doors from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. yesterday. "Many
of us think you have to keep open and keep operating, but on the other hand
you don't want to risk employees. I'm concerned that this is just the
beginning of warnings and alerts such as this. It's very disruptive."
To some customers, the disruption was a disturbing reminder of the times.
"It's kind of unnerving that terrorists, they're able to get to the very
day-to-day life of everybody," said Eduardo Abreu, who was using the
automated teller machine at the Chevy Chase Bank branch at 17th and L
To others, the closures were a mighty inconvenience. It came on the
deadline for filing tax returns -- a day when many people need to conduct
transactions -- as well as the 15th of the month, a common payday.
Denise Wiktor, a Washington resident, said she was planning to make a
deposit, credited to the 2001 tax year, into her individual retirement
account at a Bank of America branch yesterday. April 15 was the deadline
making an IRA deposit in time to yield any 2001 tax benefits.
"Now I'm screwed; I've already filed my return," she said.
Similarly, Carol Wayman of the District planned to deposit money in a
Roth IRA. She showed up at her Citibank branch near the last minute -- about
"Now I just lost this year, 2001," she said, meaning that the deadline
had passed when she could make a deposit to the retirement account and gain
tax benefits for 2001. "I understand people are cautious now. The world
scary place. But I guess they could have reopened the banks once they
determined it wasn't going to happen. Now I'll just have to wait until next
An IRS spokesman said he was unaware of any steps to help people who
tax deadlines because of the bank closures.
At the SunTrust bank at the corner of 15th Street and New York Avenue
a senior manager announced the bomb threat at about 10 a.m., said branch
manager Lillian Lockette. Bank officials decided to do so in the interest
employee safety, said a corporate spokesman.
Everyone remained calm as they evacuated, said Lockette, who figured
was a prank somehow tied to yesterday's demonstration at the Capitol in
support of Israel.
"Nobody panicked," Lockette said. "We had some upset customers, because
it's payday and also tax day. Some people want to open their IRA accounts
the last minute. I was expecting a big day."
At about 9 a.m., D.C. police officers were directed to go to all the
branches in the city and inform them of the threat. Gainer, the police
official, said D.C. police and the FBI are working with Dutch authorities
determine what legal action will be taken against the alleged caller.
"It seems like a very expensive prank," he said. Because they are part
the nation's financial infrastructure, banks are restricted in their ability
to open and close by regulators. Even on Sept. 11, after terrorist attacks
on New York and the Pentagon, banks generally stayed open. Yesterday,
however, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued a proclamation
allowing banks to close because of the bomb threat. The office had not
received requests from the banks but took the action after learning of the
threat, a spokesman said.