False-alarm bomb scare at Peoria City Hall ruled a mental health incident (2024)

A fear that Peoria Mayor Jason Beck was being targeted over political tensions in the Middle East appears to have triggered a city employee's mental health episode in December that led to a false bomb scare at City Hall.

According to police reports of the Dec. 11 incident obtained through a public records request, the employee created a panic by declaring he saw a bomb in the building.

After city staff and officials evacuated the offices, authorities searched for the suspected explosive. It turned out to be a gift-wrapped box, the reports show.

Beck, a Christian and Israel supporter, had recently taken a trip to the war-torn nation’s kibbutz Be'eri following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that incited the latest Israel-Hamas conflict.

The employee told his fiancee just a couple of days before the incident that he believed a terrorist had been following Beck since the mayor’s return home, the reports noted. The employee had also feared he was being surveilled.

Based on officer accounts and interviews with the employee, authorities determined the ordeal to be a mental health issue, said Sgt. Brandon Sheffert, a public information officer for the Peoria Police Department.

“We respond to a lot of mental health calls throughout the city,” Sheffert said, adding, “The ultimate goal is getting them help.”

As part of that effort, Sheffert said, the employee was taken to a medical facility from City Hall.

It’s unclear whether the employee still works for the city and what role, if any, he played in Beck’s Israel trip.

In November, Peoria spokesperson Diane Arthur told The Arizona Republic that no city employees traveled with Beck.

Citing respect for the employee and federal privacy laws protecting a person's health information, the city this week declined to respond to several emailed questions about the bomb scare. Beck’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

What happened at Peoria City Hall?

False-alarm bomb scare at Peoria City Hall ruled a mental health incident (1)

The heavily redacted police reports detailed how the bomb scare unfolded on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 11.

As Peoria Assistant Fire Chief Robert Brewster recalled to police, he and Fire Chief Gary Bernard had been in a meeting on the third floor of City Hall.

It was just after 1:20 p.m. when the employee, Brewster said, had “burst” into the room telling people there was a bomb in the building.

The employee, Brewster described, had a “scared demeanor” when he made the declaration.

Similarly, Bernard told police that the individual was “pale” and “scared to death” as he ran out of the room, continuing to yell, “There is a bomb in the building.”

City staff joined Bernard and Brewster in exiting City Hall, which was in “complete panic,” according to one police detective’s characterization of the scene.

During the ordeal, one woman had to be carried out, according to the detective.

“She crumbled to the floor and many folks were scared and yelling,” the detective reported.

Outside, the Peoria police and fire departments began coordinating to get a handle on the situation.

Recognizing that the building may not have been completely empty, though, Bernard went back in to pull the fire alarm, ensuring everyone knew to evacuate.

Afterward, the Peoria officials called the Glendale Police Department’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team for assistance.

To gather additional details about the suspected explosive, the detective met with the employee, who was perched on a short wall outside City Hall.

He described the “bomb” as a brown metal box on the third floor.

Knowing where to search, the bomb squad headed inside.

What officers found “was in fact not a bomb,” a police report stated. Rather, it was “a cardboard box wrapped in gold wrapping paper made to look like a Christmas present.”

Locating a box on a table in the building, the team X-rayed it and determined there was nothing inside, Sgt. Randy Stewart, Glendale police’s public information officer, told The Republic this week.

How did officers interact with the employee?

As authorities swept City Hall for the suspected explosive, the detective continued talking with the employee outside to learn why he believed there was a bomb.

Initially, the detective stated, the employee didn’t want to say much.

“He said he had already given his statement,” the detective reported, before noting that the employee began opening up and started talking about his fiancee.

“He was watching the building and would turn his head sharply in the direction of people on cellphones and kept asking if people were safe,” the detective wrote, adding, “He then would stare off into space or then move his gaze back to City Hall.”

Eventually, the employee became agitated and began pacing, according to the detective’s report.

At that time, Mayor Beck was reportedly also talking with the employee.

As they walked toward a nearby road, a man walking by was on his phone laughing. That’s when the employee “raised his voice at (the man) and clinched his fist yelling ‘what is he laughing at?’”

The detective told the employee that the man was only laughing at the person he was speaking to and not at the employee.

What led to this mental health episode?

During the detective’s interview with the employee, another officer nearby observed the interaction.

The employee was “sweating from his head” as authorities blocked his attempts to walk toward the building, the officer reported.

The officer then called the employee’s fiancee.

She had been on the phone with the employee around the time he declared seeing a bomb. She called 911 shortly after, telling police that “he dropped his phone, and she heard screaming.”

While speaking with the fiancee, the officer learned about the employee’s belief that a terrorist was following Beck after his trip to Israel.

Beck had shared details about the trip on his Instagram, stating in a Nov. 8 post that he wanted to “get as much information as possible” to share with the community.

He also spoke about witnessing Israel’s rocket dome in action and praised Israeli soldiers who, he said, needed more American support.

“We are not doing enough. I can tell you that," said Beck, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years. “All they're trying to accomplish is to make sure they can live a life of freedom. This is the last bastion of democracy in the Middle East.”

The employee had expressed his fear for Beck’s safety to the fiancee on Dec. 9.

It was that same night when the two were supposed to attend a Christmas event. He told her, though, that he didn’t want to go if there was a big crowd, the fiancee told the officer.

“At the event, (the employee) said there was a truck that slowed down near them while they were walking and pulled into an alleyway but nothing else suspicious happened,” according to the officer’s retelling of the fiancee’s phone call.

Later that night, as the two were sleeping, the fiancee said, the employee woke up in a sweat and believed cameras had been planted around his home.

The fiancee, the officer wrote, “stayed up with him to take care of him and said on Sunday he seemed to be mostly back to normal.”

The employee would later tell the fiancee that he was scared to go to work the day of the incident because he thought someone was following him.

While on her lunch break, she told the officer, she spoke with him by phone, but “he was not acting like himself.” She advocated for him to leave work early so she could care for him.

He agreed but told her he had to do something first.

“It then sounded like he put his phone in his pocket and (the fiancee) heard screaming shortly after,” the officer reported of the fiancee’s retelling of events.

Though she couldn’t hear exactly what was said, the fiancee told the officer she believed the person screaming was the employee.

The officer informed the fiancee that the employee was safe, leading to the end of their phone call.

Authorities closed the case, calling it non-criminal. They characterized the event as a mental health issue and took the employee to a medical facility.

Here's what could be coming:Peoria sets sights on 8,300 acres of state-owned land

Shawn Raymundo covers the West Valley cities of Glendale, Peoria and Surprise. Reach him at sraymundo@gannett.com or follow him on X @ShawnzyTsunami.

False-alarm bomb scare at Peoria City Hall ruled a mental health incident (2024)
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