Bomb threats paralyze Aspen | AspenTimes.com

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Bomb threats paralyze Aspen

Contributed photoSurveillance video taken by a Vectra Bank camera in Aspen captured the suspect, Jim Blanning, at 2:37 p.m. Wednesday.

ASPEN ” Authorities named Aspen native Jim Blanning on Wednesday as the main suspect in a downtown bomb plot that shuttered banks and businesses on New Year’s Eve ” arguably the busiest night of the year for local merchants.

Blanning, 71, whose last known residence is Denver, was identified through bank surveillance footage, said Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor. He had not been arrested as of 1 a.m. Thursday.

Blanning is being sought in connection with incidents at Wells Fargo Bank and Vectra Bank in downtown Aspen. He allegedly left a suspicious package with a threatening note inside each bank.

Authorities said they received a telephone call at 2:26 p.m., Wednesday, from Wells Fargo Bank at 119 S. Mill Street regarding a “suspicious package” at the building. About 12 minutes later, at 2:38 p.m., authorities said that they received a call from Vectra Bank at 534 E. Hyman Ave., with a second report of a “package with a note.”

Pryor said both notes suggested a “credible threat.” That led authorities to rope off areas around both banks as they sought to keep locals and tourists away from the buildings. The cordoned-off area was later expanded to 16 blocks around the banks, and stayed that way throughout Wednesday and into Thursday morning.

The threat led authorities to evacuate the entire, 16-block area by early evening.

The Aspen Police Department also requested and received assistance from a number of agencies, including the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Grand Junction Bomb Squad, Aspen Volunteer Fire Department, Snowmass Village Police Department, Silt Police Department and Basalt Police Department also were called to the scene.

The bomb squad team arrived early Wednsday evening. A short while later, the bomb squad moved into the downtown area although it was not clear where it was headed. Pryor would not disclose details about its movement.

However, there were some reports about a loud bang or explosion later in the evening. At a 10:40 p.m. press conference, Pryor attributed that activity to the bomb squad.

While the activity around the bank seemed to draw most of law enforcement’s attention, Pryor also said authorities found a black sled, with number suspicious packages, behind the Gap at 204 S. Galena St.

That discovery was also made Wednesday. Pryor did not say whether the packages were bombs.

As a result of the activity, authorities also set up a number of evacuation areas. At first, the evacuees, including those from the Hotel Jerome, were taken to the Rio Grande meeting room near the Pitkin County jail.

Later, the location was changed to Aspen High School. The Red Cross was on hand to assist.

Anyone having information about the incidents is asked to call authorities at 970-429-1830.

Blanning was last seen wearing a dark beanie with sunglasses and a dark shirt. He is believed to be from the Denver area although he is an Aspen native.

whaupt@aspentimes.com