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‘Suspicious’ suitcase stops Metra train 3 hours

(The following story by Norman Parish and Paige Winfield appeared on the Chicago Tribune website on November 1.)

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — Hoping to get home to do laundry and make Halloween cookies, Pat Silvestri's plans were dashed because she was forced to remain on a Metra train for about three hours Wednesday while authorities investigated "a suspicious package" near Naperville's downtown station.

The item, however, wasn't an explosive. It was men's clothing and food in a suitcase hidden in bushes on the street adjacent to the 5th Avenue Station. A homeless man hid his suitcase because he didn't want to carry it around town with him. The man later stayed at a temporary shelter at a church in Naperville.

"I was just upset," said Silvestri, who was traveling on a train from Union Station to Aurora. "I lost my whole day. They left us sitting there excessively long. I hadn't eaten anything."

Silvestri's train, which had about 90 passengers, was stopped just east of the Naperville depot at 11:30 a.m. In fact, all trains stopped by 1 p.m., including the Burlington Northern line Metra trains and freight trains.

The 5th Avenue station's west side, the train depot and the immediate area were evacuated shortly after the Naperville Police and Fire departments received a report about 10:45 a.m. that a person saw a suitcase being purposely concealed in some bushes.

Schools locked down

School officials also were advised to cancel outdoor activities as a precaution at nearby Washington Junior High and Ellsworth Elementary schools. Students, however, weren't told of the report.

"We made a mess," Naperville Commander Joel Truemper said. "But what are you supposed to do when someone dumps a suitcase near a train station?"

Members of the DuPage County Bomb Squad found the items in the suitcase, after X-rays and other detection devices showed no evidence of explosive materials.

The DuPage County Bomb Detection Unit and 13 units from the Naperville Police Department responded to the incident, as well as two dogs from the Metra Police Department that are specially trained for explosives detection.

Silvestri said she wished passengers could have left the train.

"Everybody on the train just started talking about themselves and their families," Silvestri said. "I just tried to keep my sense of humor. I told them all to call counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer of [television's] '24' because he usually can save everybody."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

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