SYDNEY (AP) — The bizarre attack seemed straight out of a Hollywood thriller: A disguised man breaks into a suburban home in the middle of the day, chains an apparent bomb to a teenage girl’s neck, and leaves a note with instructions for her wealthy family. But after 10 frantic hours working to free her, Australian police say it was all an elaborate hoax.
Sydney bomb squad specialists managed to free 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver from the bomb-like device around midnight on Wednesday, and later determined it contained no explosives. Pulver was not hurt in the incident, which still had police hunting for answers Thursday.
“A very, very elaborate hoax as it turned out,” New South Wales state Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch told reporters. “But it was made and certainly gave the appearance of a legitimate improvised explosive device. We had to treat it seriously until we could prove otherwise and that’s exactly what we did and that’s why it took so long.”
The drama began on Wednesday afternoon in the upscale Sydney suburb of Mosman when Pulver’s family contacted police saying their daughter had been attacked and there was a strange device attached to her. Bomb technicians, negotiators and detectives rushed to the scene. Nearby homes were evacuated, streets were closed and medical and fire crews waited nearby.
Pulver told police a man wearing a disguise broke into her home and attached what appeared to be a bomb to her neck. When officials arrived on the scene, they found Pulver alone in the house with the suspicious device tethered to her neck “by a chain or something similar,” Murdoch said. Officers spent hours painstakingly trying to free the girl .
Police did not know how the man managed to get into the house. Murdoch declined to describe the disguise the attacker wore.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was shocked when she heard about the case on Thursday.
“When I looked at it this morning, the first thing I said was, ‘It’s like a Hollywood script – the kind of thing you would see at the cinema or on TV,'” Gillard told Fairfax Radio. “You would never expect it to happen in real life in Australia.”
Police said they had no idea why Pulver was targeted, but they said the attack did not appear to be random.
“I hardly think that the elaborate nature and sophistication of this device was the result of someone who picked on someone randomly,” Murdoch said.
The harborside suburb of Mosman is one of the ritziest parts of Sydney and the girl’s father, William Pulver, is a successful businessman who serves as the chief executive of an information technology company. The case is being handled by the police department’s robbery and serious crime squad, which deals with extortion, among other crimes. But Murdoch said it was too soon for police to determine whether the device was left as part of an extortion attempt on the family.
The family also was at a loss to explain the bizarre attack, he said.
“The offender went to a lot of trouble for a particular reason, but what that reason was, police are still working to determine,” Murdoch said.
Murdoch said a note was left inside the house, but did not release details on what it said.
“There were some instructions left by the offender at the scene last afternoon and those instructions will provide us with further lines for inquiry,” Murdoch told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “Those instructions also limited us somewhat last night in how quickly we could proceed. Certainly the instructions were precise, they were such that led us to believe that we were dealing with a very serious and legitimate threat.”
Pulver was examined and released from a Sydney hospital on Thursday. Students at the private girls’ school she attends were being offered counseling.
“The school community is united behind the student and her family, and we thank God that she is not hurt,” Wenona School officials said in a statement.
- Girl strapped to ‘collar bomb’ for 10 hours in Sydney suburb (theprovince.com)
- Device Attached to Teen Not Explosive (abcnews.go.com)
- Police: Aussie teen not attached to bomb – CBS News (cbsnews.com)