SEASIDE PARK, N.J. — A pipe-bomb-style device detonated in a garbage can at the start of the route of a Marine Corps charity race Saturday morning, injuring no one but sparking a massive law-enforcement response and suspicions of terrorism.
The device went off about 9:35 a.m. ET near the starting point of the Seaside Semper Five 5K, which had been scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m., said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
Problems with registration for the race delayed the start and possibly spared people from injury, he said.
“When it went off, there was nobody in the area,” Della Fave said.
Multiple agencies are investigating the incident and whether the motive was terror, he said.
“You would have to assume that at a military-type event, the U.S. Marines, a device is placed along the route of a charity event, it would be hard to think it would be anything else,” Della Fave said.
Della Fave said as many as three explosive devices were enclosed in the trash can, designed to send shrapnel flying, but because only one of the devices detonated, “it appears it didn’t do the damage it was supposed to.”
Della Fave said there were about 3,000 people assembled at the registration area for the race when the pipe-bomb detonated.
A four-block area was evacuated as law-enforcement swept the site for more explosive devices, but none aside from those in the one garbage can were found, Della Fave said.
Traffic across the Mathis Bridge was shut down around 12:30 p.m., but the bridge reopened about an hour later, although people are still restricted from the boardwalk area as state police decide how to handle the explosive devices in the trash can.
The arson unit of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office initially was leading the investigation into the incident, aided by the New Jersey State Police bomb squad, the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but Della Fave said the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be taking over the probe.
A barbecue festival in Seaside Heights was going on as planned, but the mayor of Point Pleasant decided to cancel a seafood festival because of the day’s events, Della Fave said.
Gov. Chris Christie was briefed on the incident by Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, and Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, according to a news release.
Cathy Howath, 50, of Upper Saddle River and her sister Janie Murphy, 52, of Bridgewater were among those who signed up to run in the 5K. But before the race was supposed to get off, the discovery of a backpack near a media tent sent off an announcement over a bullhorn, Howath said.
“They kept making the announcement, ‘There’s an unclaimed, blue backpack by the News 12 tent and the radio station tent. If this is your backpack, please come and claim it.’ It was repeatedy,” Howath said.
Eventually, a student claimed the backpack, Murphy said. She and her sister said they believe this also delayed the start of the race and spared participants from injury.
“It was a blessing in disguise, because the pipebomb would have gone off when the 5K was going,” Howath said.