JACKSONVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Military officials locked down an Arkansas air force base for several hours Wednesday after reporting that a suspicious individual was on the sprawling complex near Little Rock, then reopened the base and said the threat was "no longer credible."
During the lockdown, no one was allowed to enter or leave the base. Gates were closed and a line of vehicles stretched for a quarter-mile outside of the base, which takes up just a bit more than 9 square miles.
"We responded with the necessary caution to secure our airmen, their families and Air Force resources," Col. Patrick Rhatigan, the 19th Airlift Wing commander, said in a statement. He apologized for the inconvenience but said it was necessary to ensure that the base and its military and civilian staff were safe.
"After a thorough search of the base," Rhatigan said, officials "found the report no longer credible."
About 7,000 to 8,000 people work at the base, approximately 1,200 of them civilians.
Lt. Mallory Thornton, a spokeswoman for the Little Rock Air Force Base, blamed the lockdown on a "suspicious individual." Officials were not releasing specific details about what prompted the lockdown and search.
"Someone called in to security forces to say they had seen a suspicious person, what that person was doing has not been released," Thornton said.
The base is a training site for personnel assigned to the C-130 cargo airplane and hosts the 19th Airlift Wing, the 314th Airlift Wing, the 29th Weapons Squadron and the Arkansas Air National Guard's 189th Airlift Wing.
Three C-130s were diverted to Little Rock National Airport during the lockdown.
Christina Rivera, whose husband is an airman on the base, said she'd received an automated phone call telling everyone on base to stay indoors. Rivera, who had been waiting outside the gate entrance for more than two hours at that point, said her husband was barricaded in their bedroom with their two children, who are 8 months old and 18 months old.
"All I want is to go home and be with my husband and my kids," she said.
Emergency crews were on the scene, and sirens could be heard over loudspeakers outside the base's entrance. The base had been conducting emergency response exercises, but officials said Wednesday's incident was not part of the drill.
Some vehicles were allowed to leave the base after being checked by security about two hours after the lockdown began.
The perceived threat never extended off the base; some local law enforcement agencies were notified about the lockdown but were not summoned. "They've got their own security force," said Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Police.
Shane Carter, a spokesman for the Little Rock airport, said three C-130 aircraft landed at the city's airport about an hour after the lockdown began. The behemoths practice series of landings and takeoffs at the civilian airport.
"We see C-130s doing touch-and-go practices all the time, however it's very rare for them to hold at the airport," Carter said.