A Cal Poly student was detained and questioned Wednesday afternoon after he was accused of making vague and rambling statements about bombs on SLO Transit buses early Wednesday morning on a bus packed with sleepy-eyed students heading to class.
No one was hurt in the incident and the suspect was later taken into custody after conducting an on-camera interview with a local TV reporter.
Police identified the suspect as Marcus Henry Karr, 33, who is listed in the Cal Poly directory as a computer science student.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Tribune
According to police, SLO Transit bus Route 5 left the Downtown Transit Center at about 8:30 a.m. and headed toward Cal Poly. As the bus drew near a stop at the Performing Arts Center, a man on the bus stated loudly: “I am passing out this literature and talk about the possibility that there may be a bomb on one of the buses.
“This is not a joke, so I would advise you not to ride the buses today or for the rest of the week until I am shown to be wrong. But I have reason to believe that this is the case. Thank you for your attention,” he said, according to the Police Department.
His statement was partially captured on a cellphone by a fellow passenger.
The flier he is accused of handing out did not make specific threats or mention a bomb.
“Something VERY STRANGE is happening. Therefore I MUST DECLARE PREEMPTIVE WAR,” the flier reads in part. “To all you WITCHES and SATANISTS and DEVILS and POSSESSED, I DECLARE WAR ON YOU.”
The flier continues with mention of “horned goats,” a “green monster” and “the man in the high castle.”
After students got off the bus, one contacted the University Police Department, which contacted San Luis Obispo police. Bus service across the city was halted while investigators and bomb-sniffing dogs from the California Department of Parks and Recreation stopped and searched all 15 city buses. Police issued a news release asking for the public’s help in locating the suspect.
As KSBY reporter Charlie Misra was interviewing students, he was approached by a man later identified as Karr who wanted an interview, said KSBY President and General Manager Kathleen Choal.
As Misra interviewed Karr on camera, Choal said, Misra quickly realized Karr was the person police were searching for and Karr admitted to being the person who made the statements videotaped on the bus. Choal said Misra calmly wrapped up the interview before quietly calling police and pointing out Karr.
Karr was then taken into custody for questioning.
Scarlette Whitted, a Cal Poly biology junior, was sitting next to Karr during his speech, she said, and students at first ignored his rambling.
She said passengers were “packed like sardines” in the Route 5 bus and approaching the last stop near the PAC when the man, later identified as Karr, stood up on the seat and began shouting about a bomb on a city bus and warning people not to ride the bus for a week.
Whitted said Karr pulled out a box from his backpack and began handing out pieces of paper and urging riders to pass them around. He then advised people not to ride the bus during its busiest hours midday, specifically when it pulled into the Downtown Transit Center.
“Everybody was just like, ‘Are you freaking serious?’ ” Whitted recalled. “At first I thought, ‘Please shut up. I haven’t eaten breakfast yet.’ ”
She said Karr then pressed his backpack up against her and began rummaging through it as the bus pulled up to the stop.
“That was the fastest I’ve ever seen people get off the bus,” she said, adding that she didn’t see the bus driver take any action. “Someone said something like, ‘That was the most interesting bus ride I’ve ever taken.’ ”
She said she didn’t feel she was in any danger until the man started going through his bag. He was the last to exit the bus, she said, and was last seen pulling his sweatshirt hood over his head and walking north.
As police, State Parks and SLO Transit personnel continued sweeping city buses for any potential threats, the San Luis Coastal Unified School District coordinated school buses to pick up middle and high school students affected by the citywide shutdown.
Students from San Luis Obispo High School who use city bus services, as well as about 50 students from Laguna Middle School and Pacific Beach High School, were picked up by school buses at their normal city stops, said Anthony Palazzo, the manager of buildings, grounds and transportation for the school district.
SLO Transit expects to resume normal bus service Thursday, a representative said Wednesday.
As of Wednesday evening, Karr remained at the San Luis Obispo police headquarters for interviews with investigators, police Capt. Chris Staley said. It was not immediately clear whether he had been or would be placed under arrest.