Tiverton bomb scare caused by movie-like prank clock

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TIVERTON — The bomb scare that emptied a Middle Avenue neighborhood two weeks ago was caused by a prank clock, obtained over the internet, that was made to look like a real bomb.

The device  is called a "Defusable Clock." The website that displays the clock invites readers to, "build a clock that looks seriously dangerous."

That's what Tiverton police were looking at when they evacuated the neighborhood on Monday, Oct.29.

Tiverton Detective Sergeant Michael Miguel said that a real estate agent had been showing a home for sale at 82 Middle Avenue on Sunday, the day before, and saw the device resting there on a basement work bench, surrounded by tools, and took a photo of it.

The photo, not released by police, showed a clock with what looked like sticks of dynamite.

"The Defusable Clock lets you build a scary looking clock," the website says. "Use your imagination to build the device you want!" It continues: "You can build a clock that looks like a dangerous device. For example, phony dynamite can be made by wrapping brown paper around wood dowels."

That's what they found in the basement, Tiverton police said, and it looked real enough to make them take action.

For two hours that morning, authorities ordered residents on Middle Avenue and South Street, between Highland and Main Roads, to evacuate their homes while state and local police, the state fire marshal, and state bomb squad experts investigated.

With residents out of the way, officers conducted a controlled detonation to blow the thing up. Nothing happened.

Detective Miguel said the learned later that the Defusable Clock made by Nootropic Design was actually an alarm clock.

The clock, the website says, comes complete with "a normal beeping alarm, snooze alarm, etc." There are wires across the top, and a digital set of illuminated clock-like numbers can blink off the time in seconds.

"But at anytime you can press the big red button to start a scary countdown sequence exactly like bombs in Hollywood movies," the site says.

The toy device is programmable, designed to challenge those playing with it. For example, you can set it up so  that you have 10 seconds to decide which of four wires to cut — or pull apart if you want to play the game again and don't want to cut wires. Just leave the screws loose, the site says, and the wires can be pulled right out.

The website displays a boxed notice to federal agents and law enforcement officials, declaring the device to be "just a clock. It is no more dangerous than any other clock." The author of the notice then tells officials: "Please know that I'm on your side. So we're cool, right?"

To users, the website advises: "... use your head. This kind of device can make people freak out and call authorities. So don't bring this to school or work, and certainly don't bring it anywhere near an airport! Seriously, don't get yourself into trouble."

Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakey said later, "Each case has to weighed on its own merits, and you have to consider time, place, and circumstance." He said the Middle Avenue device was not on a nightstand, but on a work bench, accompanied by "wrapped sticks looking like dynamite, screw drivers, and wires."

"How do you differentiate?" he asked. These were adults, he said. "People have the right to these things, and we brought in people to look at it."

"As far as selling these things, what can you say? I don't think I have the latitude to make a judgment call as to what should or should not be sold," the chief added.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.