TAMPA — A maintenance manager of Bayshore Pointe Nursing and Rehab Center found what appeared to be a pipe bomb on his desk Wednesday morning.
The danger seemed real.
Police evacuated more than 50 residents of the nursing home at 3117 W Gandy Blvd. A bomb squad combed the facility, looking for anything else suspicious.
Hours later, police learned the device, described as three pipes strapped together, was fake.
"It had all the elements of a pipe bomb including a power supply," said Laura McElroy, a spokeswoman for the Tampa Police Department. It didn't have explosives. "It was built by somebody very familiar with pipe bombs and it took an X-ray to determine it was not real."
Managers at the center did not return a call for comment.
The call came in just after 9 a.m. The bomb squad arrived minutes later. Patrol officers closed off a small section of Gandy Boulevard west of MacDill Avenue so the device could be retrieved. Four fire trucks and a dozen firefighters came to assist.
Everyone except for about 50 people on the second and third floors of the center's west wing was evacuated. Residents in wheelchairs were taken to a nearby dry cleaner, then to an air-conditioned CVS drugstore.
Two elderly women were hospitalized with breathing problems after being out in the heat.
The device was placed in a containment chamber and taken away to be dismantled, McElroy said. The building became a crime scene. Police have leads on a suspect, she said.
"Most of the time these things turn out to be a hoax, but we treat it exactly the same as we would the real deal because we would rather be safe than sorry," she said.
Pink Whitt, an independently employed caretaker, was at the center assisting a patient when she noticed employees gathered about 9:30 a.m. She thought it was a meeting.
She didn't realize what was happening until she walked into her patient's room.
"Her bed was gone," Whitt said. "I was like — what?"
The evacuation seemed orderly, she thought. Patients weren't initially told what was going on.
"I can't believe someone would actually try to come in and harm innocent, helpless people," she said.
About noon, police allowed residents back in. A parade of wheelchairs exited the CVS, some pushed by firefighters.
Rosalyn Franklin, whose mother stays at Bayshore Pointe, learned of the evacuations about 11:45 a.m. from a friend who also has family there. Franklin hurried over and checked the CVS and another shaded area a few blocks away.
She didn't find her mother, 86-year-old Irmina White, and later learned her mother was in the wing of the facility not evacuated.
By 12:30 p.m., she was taking her mother away in a minivan.
"I was scared," she said, visibly upset.
Amy McClure's 98-year-old mother spent her first night at the center Tuesday.
McClure was on her way to visit Wednesday when she came upon the closed road. She assumed there was a car accident but noticed elderly people in wheelchairs leaving the CVS parking lot.
An officer explained there had been a bomb scare.
She found her mom at the drugstore, then went back to Bayshore Pointe for an explanation. An administrator wouldn't tell her what was going on, McClure said.
That didn't sit well with McClure, who said she didn't leave with a comfortable feeling. The incident made her question the thoroughness of emergency plans, the reason why some residents were left in a wing of the building, and why the event happened in the first place.
"Who in the heck would target a nursing home?" she wondered.