NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Authorities announced the arrest of a 30-year-old man from Elizabeth, claiming that he was responsible for a bomb threat that forced evacuations on the morning of October 25.
A joint statement from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO), the New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD), and the Middlesex County Sheriff said that Tiago Santana-Silva “used a fictitious email address to send the bomb threat to courthouse staff.”
At 10:25am that morning, New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts announced that “Middlesex Vicinage courts will be closed for the rest of the day.” While “onsite court hearings” were rescheduled, “remote operations would proceed as scheduled.”
The adjustments came at a time when the county’s Family Courthouse on New Street was already closed to the public due to devastating flood damage incurred during a bad storm that hit September 1.
Nevertheless, law enforcement searched both the Family Courthouse and the main County Courthouse on Paterson Street, as well as the county government’s headquarters, which is connected to the main court.
“The Courthouses and Middlesex County Administration Building were subsequently inspected for explosives by the Sheriff’s Department,” reads the statement. “Following a comprehensive search, it was determined there were no explosive devices in neither the Courthouses nor the Administration Building.”
The scare provided an ominous start to the week, and the court system was forced to closed for different reasons the following day, as yet another storm bombarded the city, and a “flood warning” was declared.
“Due to the the severe storm, Judiciary central office and clerk’s office operations will proceed remotely today,” reads a statewide alert from the court system on October 26.
Now, nearly four months later, Santana-Silva was arrested on February 13, and taken to the Middlesex County jail that night. The joint press release from authorities came one day later, as the jailed man awaits a hearing to determine if he will be detained or released pending his trial.
A spokesperson for the MCPO did not immediately respond to our questions about the motive for the threat. It’s unclear if Santana-Silva had any prior connection to the court system in Middlesex County.
Santana-Silva was charged with one count of second-degree “False Public Alarm” as well as separate counts of “Terroristic Threats,” in both the third and fourth degrees.
According to the state law on “False Public Alarm,” it is a crime to initiate or circulate “a report or warning of an impending fire, explosion, bombing, crime, catastrophe or emergency knowing that the report or warning is false or baseless and that it is likely to cause evacuation of a building.”
Under normal circumstances, the crime would be a second-degree offense if it “in fact results in serious bodily injury to another person,” but another caveat in the statute is that a false public alarm rises to the second degree level if it “occurs during a declared period of national, State or county emergency.”
New Jersey is currently under multiple active states of emergencies, and has been for many years.
Authorities credited an investigation by MCPO Detective Shadi Zaiton with determining that Santana-Silva was responsible for the threat.
According to the joint press release, the investigation is still “active and continuing,” and anyone with information is asked to call Detective Zaiton at (732) 745-4263.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.