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Suspicious box prompts Whitstran school to call bomb squad

A suspicious package found at a Prosser School District elementary school Thursday morning forced students to be moved into portable classrooms while the bomb squad was called out.

The cardboard box was found near the back of the parking lot at Whitstran Elementary at 7:45 a.m., school officials said in a notice posted online.

Students and staff were moved out of the main building while officials called 911. When Benton County sheriff's deputies arrived, they called the Richland Police Bomb Squad to inspect the package.

The bomb squad, with help from the Washington State Patrol bomb squad, was able to determine there were books and newspapers inside the box that did not pose a threat.

"It was heavy, dense and fit the criteria of a suspicious package," said Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb. "Nobody knew why it was there."

Students and staff were allowed to return to the building, which is north of Prosser, at 10 a.m. and resumed their normal school schedule.

While Thursday's incident turned out to be nothing, Cobb said it always is better to call out the trained bomb technicians to check on a suspicious package than risk injury to someone.

"As a former bomb squad commander, it's better to have us and not need us, than need us and not have us," Cobb said. "You usually only get a chance to make a mistake one time ... and injuries or death as a result is just too high a price to pay."

Richland's bomb squad, which gets called out about 30 times year, shares responsibility with the state patrol to respond to suspicious package calls in Southeast Washington.

Washington State Patrol officials sent out a news release Thursday, with several executives from police agencies on the west side, to continue to encourage people to call 911 if they see something suspicious.

Officials said they were worried that a news story about agencies in New York and Washington, D.C., being overwhelmed by suspicious package calls would discourage people to call 911.

Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste said tips from citizens are critical to protecting everyone.

"I would rather explain why someone missed a ferry than explain why a loved one was injured or killed," Batiste said, adding that citizens know best about what is normal in their neighborhood, workplace or bus stop.

"If you see something unusual, make the call," he said. "Let us be the ones to figure out whether it's a threat."

Richland man arrested in burglary linked to several other break-ins

RICHLAND -- A 25-year-old Richland man arrested early Thursday after breaking into a Richland radiology office has been linked to five other business break-ins, police said.

Richland officers were called at 1 a.m. Thursday to Columbia Basin Imaging, 953 Stevens Drive, for a report of a burglary that had just happened, said Capt. Mike Cobb.

Officers found several items were removed from the office and believed the suspect may have been hurt during the burglary, he said.

A police dog unit was called in but was unable to track the suspect.

Several hours later, however, officers spotted David M. Neff walking in the area. Neff had a bandaged arm that appeared like a recent injury, Cobb said.

Officers contacted Neff and noticed the soles of his shoes matched a similar pattern found at the burglary scene, he said. They also reported finding a check from Columbia Basin Imaging in Neff's pocket after his arrest.

Investigators linked Neff to other commercial burglaries in Richland last month. Stolen computers, electronics, a camera and cell phone were found when officers searched Neff's home, Cobb said.

Neff was booked into the Benton County jail on suspicion of six counts of second-degree burglary.

Detectives also are looking into whether Neff is connected to four other burglary cases.

Man shot, killed Wednesday near Moses Lake; identity not released

MOSES LAKE -- A man was shot and killed Wednesday night near Moses Lake, authorities said.

The man's age and name have not yet been released.

Grant County sheriff's deputies received a call at 9:15 p.m. about a disturbance in the Larson Housing Area, northwest of Moses Lake, said Undersheriff Dave Ponozzo.

When deputies arrived they found a man on the ground who had been shot in the chest.

The man stopped breathing and deputies started CPR. He died shortly after being taken to Samaritan Hospital in Moses Lake, Ponozzo said.

Few other details were available because of the early stages of the investigation, he said.

No arrests had been made, but detectives are interviewing a person involved in the shooting who is cooperating with the investigation, Ponozzo said.

-- Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

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