MARION — County officials said the Franklin and Williamson County Courthouses were closed, evacuated and later reopened after bomb threats were called in Wednesday morning.
The threats also led to the closure of the public square in Benton. A media release from Franklin County Sheriff Don Jones' office said at 8:47 a.m., a caller reported via 911 that there was a bomb in the courthouse. It said the courthouse was then evacuated as well as the Campbell Building across the street.
The release said a K-9 team from Scott Air Force Base searched both buildings and found nothing.
Jones said his office is treating the threat called in to Franklin County Wednesday as related to a similar call around the same time that also forced evacuation of the Williamson County Courthouse and the closure of surrounding streets.
The report said the incident is under investigation by the sheriff's office with the assistance of the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service.
According to a news release from the Williamson County Sheriff's Office, at about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday, a 911 call was received by West Frankfort Police Department that threatened an “improvised explosive device on the second floor of the courthouse.”
A search turned up nothing, and the courthouse was reopened by 1 p.m.
West Frankfort Police contacted the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office as there was concern the call was referring to the Williamson County Courthouse. Williamson County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Murrah said the call pinged off a cellphone tower on the line between Williamson and Franklin counties, so there was concern about both courthouses.
Jim Muir, Franklin County's circuit clerk, said he received a call from the sheriff's office just before 9 a.m. He said he was told that a "hang-up" call threat had been made to 911 and was asked to evacuate the building.
"It was a mass exodus," Muir said, adding that more than 100 people left the building, many taking shelter in the county's annex building in Benton.
A message from Franklin County Emergency Management Agency at about 9:30 a.m. said the public square in Benton was closed because of the bomb threat. The message said the courthouse and the Campbell Building had been evacuated as a safety precaution. EMA sent another message around 1 p.m. Wednesday saying everything had reopened.
Franklin County State's Attorney Evan Owens said there were about 150 cases on the county's docket Wednesday morning.
In a news release, Owens said all "out of custody criminal and traffic cases" will be continued until Dec. 13. The release said all "in custody criminal cases" on the docket Wednesday would be heard in the afternoon unless "circumstances change." The release said these criminal cases, as well as juvenile cases, would be heard at 2 p.m.
Franklin County EMA's message said Jones coordinated with officials from Benton/West City Police, Benton Fire and Franklin County EMA.