Long Island woman says cooking searches stirred suspicion

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 01, 2013 5:22 PM

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Long Island writer struggling to find a better way to cook lentils was visited by law enforcement agents after she and her husband ran Google searches on pressure cookers and backpacks, she wrote in a blog post.

Those items were a deadly combination on April 15 at the Boston Marathon, when two brothers planted pressure cookers filled with explosives hidden in backpacks near the finish line, setting off blasts that killed three people and injured nearly 300 - in some cases, severing limbs.

For Michele Catalano, who wrote about her experience on the Medium.com website on Thursday, a day after the incident, the searches created "a perfect storm of terrorism profiling." Catalano also told her story to the Guardian newspaper on Thursday, but was not immediately available for an interview.

"I had researched pressure cookers. My husband was looking for a backpack. And maybe in another time those two things together would have seemed innocuous, but we are in 'these times' now," Catalano wrote.

The Suffolk County police department told a different story.

In an email sent to reporters on Thursday, the police said criminal intelligence detectives got a tip from a computer company that a former employee had conducted suspicious searches on a workplace computer. The searches included "pressure cooker bombs" and "backpacks."

"Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject's home to ask about the suspicious Internet searches," and the incident was ruled "non-criminal in nature," according to the statement.

Spokesmen for the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Nassau County Police Department said they had not been involved in the incident.

In her blog post, Catalano said police arrived at her house at about 9 a.m., after she had left for work, but while her husband was home.

"Do you own a pressure cooker?" an officer asked her husband, according to Catalano's account. Her husband responded the couple had a rice cooker to make quinoa. The next question: "What the hell is quinoa?"

A law enforcement source said the visit was made by local Long Island police.

Catalano said the incident left her shaken.

"All I know is - if I'm going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I'm not doing it online," Catalano said.

(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Bernard Orr and Gunna Dickson)