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Occupy Maine adjusts, beefs up security watches after chemical bomb attack

Pat Wellenbach | AP
Pat Wellenbach | AP
A sign that reads "2-Gether 99% We Stand" lies on one of the tents that belongs to a group that calls itself Occupy Maine in a park in Portland on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011. The group gathers at nearby Portland's Monument Square every day to hold signs and offer information on what they call corporate greed, political corruption and the need for change.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Members of Portland’s Occupy Maine encampment have increased security shifts and moved their kitchen area to within view of nearby Cumberland County Courthouse video cameras after a chemical bomb incident early Sunday morning.

“We moved the kitchen away from the road, so we’re not as vulnerable to a potential attack like that,” said Macy Lamson at Occupy Maine’s tent community in Lincoln Park Tuesday.

Fellow Occupy Maine member Shane Blodgett said police told the demonstrators, who are camped out in part in protest of corporate influence on government, that investigators have a suspect in the case. A call to the Portland Police Department seeking to confirm that claim was not immediately returned.

Police believe somebody threw a chemical bomb from a vehicle — witnesses claim to have seen a silver sedan, possibly a Toyota or Nissan — passing by the encampment, which has been in place for more than three weeks and consists of nearly 40 tents. The explosive device landed in an area under tarps set up for storage and kitchen uses. Occupy Maine members said that although nobody was seriously hurt, at least six people were nearby and could have been injured or killed under different circumstances.

“It was no small noise, that’s for sure,” Lamson told the Bangor Daily News. “It lifted a table up that would have taken two people to lift, so it was no small force, either. It didn’t cause a fire, but it was dangerous.”

Portland police Lt. Gary Rogers, speaking earlier in the day Tuesday, said “typically a chemical bomb is made in a plastic bottle with common household items, that, when combined, can cause some expansion and then an explosion.”

Lamson said that — in addition to moving the kitchen area from its original location alongside the Congress Street border of the park to the opposite side, near the courthouse — the group is increasing its security watch teams from two to four people per shift. She reiterated that there are no plans to abandon the occupation in light of the attack: “We’re standing strong.”

“Emotionally, it brought us all closer together,” Blodgett said. “The attack was on our camp, a camp that we share. We all felt threatened by it, so we all pulled closer together.”

Rogers said investigators are not certain Occupy Maine was the specific or only target of whoever threw the chemical bomb. Around 3 a.m., officers on duty heard another loud noise similar to the explosion at the Occupy Maine site. That was about an hour before the Lincoln Park bomb went off, Rogers said, but police never located a second explosion site.

The officers were responding to a call at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Chapel Street, behind City Hall, when they heard the first noise coming from the southwest.

Rogers said the department has dealt with reports of young people experimenting with explosive materials before, but doesn’t remember another situation where the bomb was thrown in “an assault” at other people.

“An incident like this, where it’s thrown from a moving vehicle passing by, it’s probably the first time we’ve seen something like this,” Rogers said.

Since Occupy Maine was established early this month to support the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, other occupations have sprouted up in Bangor and Augusta.

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