ATHENS (KYTX) - The courthouse and several blocks of downtown Athens re-opened around 1pm Monday after four tense hours that were kicked off by a single prank phone call.

Henderson County's is one of those East Texas courthouses that harkens back to a simpler time because normally deputies don't make people go through metal detectors to get inside. But by Monday afternoon, most of the entrances through which people usually come and go freely were chained up thanks to what happened earlier in the day.

Before that, the streets around the courthouse were like a ghost town. You could hear a pin drop as people waited for answers.

"It was really busy and all of a sudden it went to where nobody was here," said Dana Haisten, who works across the street at Athens Screen Printing. "I mean I was looking out of our window and there was nothing."

It was a surprise, she said, and it got people talking.

"We had a lot of phone calls to see if we were open, and we were," Haisten said. "And they were allowing people to walk around so that was fine. I mean I had several people in here still this morning."

Not everyone got through. Walkers got turned away and drivers were intercepted and told to turn around--all because of one phone call.

"The bailiff in the district court got a call saying the courthouse was going to blow up," Sheriff Ray Nutt said.

Under the law, Nutt said that's a terroristic threat. And whoever did it also called a pawn shop with the same story.

"[We] maintained the courthouse to keep anybody from getting in or out, basically, and called ATF and they brought a bomb-sniffing dog," Nutt said.

That dog never found anything to worry about. So on Monday afternoon a single entrance re-opened. Signs on the other ones asked people to go to the main entrance for security screening.

The question is: Will it be permanent?

"We've thought about it," Nutt said. "Of course, this courthouse has got like seven or eight doors. It's a nightmare to try to secure and the cost is so high that we haven't been able to budget enough money to do it just yet."

Nutt said any long term decision about changes in the security at the courthouse would not come immediately. He said the identity of the prank caller was still a mystery, but under active investigation.

People around the courthouse weren't focusing on the money or the security. Many of them were simply relieved it wasn't worse.

"Yeah, I mean I'm glad it wasn't [a bomb]," Haisten said. "Because we were pretty close."

Recommended for you