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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Pennsylvania library cancels drag queen story hour after bomb threat investigation

A drag queen story hour event at a public library in Pennsylvania was canceled Saturday after a suspicious package was found amid bomb threats, an incident that followed weeks of local criticism of the event.

Lancaster Police said that K-9 unit dogs alerted law enforcement to a potential threat during a pre-planned sweep of the Lancaster Public Library Saturday morning. The area around the library was closed off as a state police bomb squad responded to the scene.

After the package was found, police said they received “additional bomb threats via email of explosive devices” in two more locations as well as outside of Lancaster City jurisdiction.

“We can confirm that no explosive devices were found,” the police statement said. The areas are now reopened, and there is no danger to the public at this time.”

North Queen Street is deserted after police issued evacuation orders in Lancaster, Pa., on Saturday.Jim Gerberich / AP

Lancaster Pride, the volunteer organization which sponsored the story hour, expressed gratitude for community support in a post on Facebook following the threat. The organization encouraged people to support their local library, check in with each other, and “keep spreading the message that love must win.”

“While we support the freedom of speech: we stand firm and cannot and we will not let hate, fear, and intimidation stop our collective movement for love and support for all,” Lancaster Pride said.

Authorities are looking at identifying the person responsible and prosecuting them for the hoax, Lancaster Police Chief Richard Mendez said in a statement.

“Not only do bomb threats disrupt the peace and safety of our community, they waste valuable public resources,” Mendez said. “These threats trigger costly responses and stretch our resources thin, leaving our community vulnerable to genuine emergencies.”

Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons said on Facebook that emails are “normally very traceable” and in a different post said he hoped that person was held responsible to the full extent of the law.

He also implied that the suspect could be an event supporter trying to sow chaos to be blamed at critics of the drag queen event.

A suspect has not been identified, and police have not yet ascribed a motive to threat. Police have not said whether they were investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Commenters criticized Parsons for insinuating a supporter of the story hour might be responsible for the bomb threat.

“We are in the middle of the police still having to deal with this mess, where you personally threw gas on the fires of outrage for the last few weeks and you choose to not only start throwing blame, but to imply it was attention seeking by the supporters of the event?” one commenter, identified on Facebook as Jason Burkholder wrote.

Burkholder and other commenters also criticized Parsons’ rhetoric ahead of the event, blaming him for “fanning the flames of paranoia and misinformation that culminated today in terror threats.”

In a March 11 post, Parsons wrote that the event did not “meet basic professional standards” and was not age appropriate for children, an increasingly common criticism of drag queen events which have been politicized in recent years.

“This is about the library signaling to the world that they are a fully woke, politicized organization and if you do not embrace their agenda completely, you are not welcomed at their library,” Parsons wrote in that March 11 post.

“This is such an absolutely shameless display of bad political showmanship and poor leadership it would be unbelievable if we weren’t reading your words ourselves,” Jason Burkholder wrote Saturday. “Violence has no place in the debate, and neither do elected officials who sow this kind of madness for their own games.”

Still, some commenters defended Parsons, saying he “did not do this or create this” and that “people can have different view points on matters.”

Lancaster County Commissioner Ray D’Agostino had also criticized the event, The Associated Press reported, alleging a link between anxiety in children and adults “trying to push adult themed issues at such an early age.”

He also condemned the violent threat on Saturday to local news, according to the AP.

Christopher Paolini was supposed to host the event on Saturday, reading to the children in drag as Miss Amie Vanité. He told local news outlet LancasterOnline that he had arrived early to change ahead of a planned protest of the event and was there when police evacuated the building.

He told the outlet he was “keeping a strong face” about the incident.

“Because that’s what I do in the face of this kind of insanity, stupidity,” Paolini said. “Like, this is not how we thought today was going to go at all whatsoever.”

Tiffany Shirley, director of Lancaster Pride, also told LancasterOnline that she was there at the time and made the decision to cancel the event to ensure everyone’s safety.

“It just breaks my heart that we were trying to make a safe, fun event for our children, and because people disagree and don’t think we should exist, (they) had to ruin it for everybody,” Shirley said.

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