Page 90 of Overload


From the street in front of the hotel, the extinguisher bombs were rushed, by a hastily assembled fleet of trucks, to a disused waterfront pier where they were dumped into the bay.

Soon after deployment of the police bomb squad, they were joined by an Army ordnance unit of a half-dozen officers and NCOs-bomb experts who helped speed the removal process.

Twenty minutes after the alarm was given, it became evident to those in charge that evacuation was going well, and faster than expected. The chances of having most guests out of the hotel before 3 am looked good.

By now, every street leading to the Christopher Columbus was jam-packed with vehicles-fire equipment, police cars and wagons, ambulances, all with dome lights flashing. A huge van, operated by the city's Office of Emergency Services, had just moved in and was setting up an on-site command post. Two GSP&L heavy-duty service trucks were among recent arrivals, one crew standing by in case of power problems, the other disconnecting gas service at the street main.

Representatives of press, TV and radio were arriving in growing numbers, eagerly asking questions of anyone who might answer. Two local radio stations were broadcasting live from the scene. The news was already international; AP and UPI had flashed bulletins nationwide and overseas.

Among the press corps, Nancy Molineaux was the center of attention by a group composed of several police detectives, an FBI special agent, and a young Assistant District Attorney. (tle Assistant D.A. had been on the police operations center list.) Nancy answered as many questions as she could, but was evasive about the two cassette tapes which had already been collected from her as arranged. Under a stern near threat from the Assistant D.A., she promised they would be handed to him within the next two hours. One detective, following discussions between his superiors and the Assistant D.A., left the group to telephone two instructions: Raid the house at 117 Crocker Street. Arrest Georgos Archambault and Davey Birdsong.

Through it all, police and firemen continued to hasten evacuation of the hotel.

Inevitably, as the hotel emptied, there were casualties. An elderly woman tripped on the concrete emergency stairs and fell heavily, breaking her hip and wrist. An ambulance crew carried her away, moaning, on a stretcher. A New England power company official had a heart attack after descending twenty flights and died on the way to the hospital. Another woman fell and suffered a concussion. Several more had minor cuts and bruises resulting from haste and congestion on the stairs.

There appeared to be no panic. Strangers helped each other. Boorishness or had manners were almost nil. Some hardy spirits made jokes, helping others overcome their fear.

Once outside the hotel, evacuees were herded to a side street, two blocks away, where police cars had been parked to form a barricade. Fortunately, the night was mild and no one seemed to be suffering because of scanty clothing. After a while, a Red Cross van appeared and volunteer workers passed out coffee, doing what else they could to console people while they waited.

Nim Goldman and his family were among the early groups to reach the cordoned-off area. By then, Leah and Benjy were thoroughly awake, and now excited by what was happening. When he was satisfied that Ruth and the children were safe, and despite Ruth's protests, Nim returned to the hotel. Afterward he realized he was foolhardy in the extreme, but at the time was prompted by the general heady excitement and the remembrance of two things. One was Nancy Molineaux's hasty reference on the phone to "bombs disguised as fire extinguishers," the other, the young man who, only yesterday, had placed a fire extinguisher behind a lobby chair while Nim and Wally Talbot watched. Nim wanted to make sure, with many people still in the hotel: Had that particular extinguisher been found?

By now it was close to 3 am.

Despite a stream of agitated guests emerging from the hotel's main entrance, Nim managed to force his way back in. Once inside the lobby, he tried to get the attention of a passing fireman, but the man brushed him aside with a "not now, buddy," and raced upstairs toward the mezzanine.

There seemed no one else in authority who was unoccupied, and Nim beaded to where he had seen the fire extinguisher placed.

"Mr. Goldman! Mr. Goldman!" the call came from his right and a small man in civilian clothes, with a metal badge pinned to his breast pocket, hurried forward. Nim recognized Art Romeo, the shifty-appearing little deputy to Harry London in the Property Protection Department. The shield Nim realized, was that of a GSP & L security officer, but it appeared to be giving Romeo authority.

Much later, Nim would discover that Art Romeo had been visiting the hotel, and was sharing a nocturnal poker game with out-of-town cronies from another utility, when the alarm was given. He had promptly pinned on his security badge and helped with the evacuation.

"Mr. Goldman, you must go outside!"

"Forget that! I need help." Nim hurriedly explained about the fire extinguisher which he suspected was a bomb.

"Where is it, sir?"

"Over here." Nim strode to where he had been seated yesterday and pulled a chair aside. The red extinguisher was where the young man in coveralls had left it.

Art Romeo's voice took on authority. "Move away! Get out! Go!"

"No, it has to be . . ."

What happened next occurred so quickly that Nim had trouble afterward recalling the sequence of events.

He heard Romeo shout, "Officers! Over here!" Suddenly two brawny policemen were beside Nim, and Romeo was telling them, "This man refuses to leave. Take him outside!"

Without questioning the order, the policemen seized Nim and roughly frog-marched him toward the main front door. As Nim was thrust through it he managed to glance back. The little figure of Art Romeo had lifted the fire extinguisher and, with it clasped in his arms, was following.

Ignoring Nim's protests, the policemen continued shoving him toward the evacuation area two blocks distant. When he was within a few yards of it, they released him. One said, "If you come back, mister, we'll arrest you and you'll be taken downtown and charged. We're doing this for your own good."

At that same instant there was the mighty roar of an explosion, followed by a cacophony of shattering glass.

In the days which followed, based on eyewitness accounts and official reports, it was possible to piece the various happenings together.

Using the information Nancy Molineaux: had given the police operations center, obtained from the tape recordings and her notes, the bomb squad knew they had to look for high explosive bombs on the hotel's main floor and mezzanine, incendiary bombs on the floors above. They had located-or so they thought-all the high explosive bombs and, with Army aid, removed them.

A bomb squad spokesman said next day, "In the circumstances, we and the Army boys took chances we wouldn't have normally. We gambled that we'd have time to do what we did, and the gamble paid off. If we'd been wrong about the timing, God help us all!"

The bomb squad had been wrong, however, in believing they had located all the high explosive bombs. The one they missed was the one Nim remembered.

By the time Art Romeo had bravely picked up the bomb, staggered with it from the hotel, and taken it to the area from where the disposal trucks had been shuttling, all the bomb squad members were on upper floors of the hotel, working frantically to clear the fire bombs.

Consequently, after Art Romeo set the high explosive bomb down, no one else was close when, seconds later, it exploded. Romeo was blown to pieces instantly. Almost every window in adjoining blocks was shattered, as was the glass in nearby vehicles. But miraculously, incredibly, no one else was hurt.

As the roar of the explosion died, several women screamed and men cursed.

The explosion also marked a psychological turning point. No one, anymore, questioned the need for the emergency exodus. Talking, among the displaced hotel guests, was noticeably more subdued. Some, abandoning any idea of returning to the Christopher Columbus, began to leave the scene quietly, making their own arrangements for the remainder of the night.

But within the hotel, although no guests remained, the action was not yet over.

Out of the nearly twenty fire bombs which Georgos Archambault and his fellow terrorists placed on upper floors, eight were not located and removed in time; they detonated shortly after 3 am fierce fires resulted.

It was more than an hour before all were brought under control; by then the floors where they occurred were a sodden, burned-out shambles. It was clear to all concerned that, without the advance warning and evacuation, the death toll would have been enormous.

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