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United Way of Lancaster County


Drag story hour canceled, block evacuated after bomb threats

Police officers stand at the north end of the 100 block of North Queen Street, which was sealed off after discovery of a suspicious package on Saturday, March 23, 2024. (Photo: Max Weidman)

A Drag Queen Story Hour planned for Saturday afternoon at Lancaster Public Library was canceled after police found a suspicious package at the site and organizers received emailed threats.

City police said they closed the 100 block of North Queen Street and notified the state police bomb squad after city and county K-9 units found the package shortly after 9:15 a.m. during a preplanned sweep. The item was subsequently determined to be harmless.

Shortly after noon, police announced the evacuation of the 100 blocks of North Lime and North Queen streets due to the receipt of an emailed threat. The threat, which was laced with profanity, claimed to have placed bombs at the library and at the homes of several people associated with the story hour, including the library’s executive director, the president of event organizer Lancaster Pride and an LNP reporter.

Police secured the cited areas and dispatched K-9 units to them. No explosives were found. Police reopened the city blocks around 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

Police tape and barricades block entrance to the 100 block of North Queen Street. (Photo: Max Weidman)

Controversy over the drag story hour has swirled over the past two weeks. Supporters defended it after Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino criticized the library for holding it; opponents said the two commissioners were right and called on the library to cancel the event, or to have its public funding pulled if it didn’t.

Around 500 people had signed up, leading the library to schedule a second session. Lancaster Pride obtained a permit for Ewell Plaza so it and allied organizations could shield families from any opponents who demonstrated; organizers and law enforcement collaborated on a security plan that included a checkpoint with a metal detector for individuals entering the library.

Several people who had been planning to attend on Saturday told One United Lancaster they were disappointed.

“I believe in gay rights, and I believe in drag queens,” said Marie Drake. “I believe in America and I believe in free speech. We should do as we see fit. Be you, don’t be somebody else. God loves us all.”

“We should all be able to have a voice in our community,” Trudy Ellenberger said.

A prayer service had been scheduled Saturday across from the library and Ewell Plaza in Binns Park, but its organizer relinquished the permit. On Friday evening, a group of faith leaders held a peaceful service opposing the event, with Pastor Matthew Kroll telling WGAL they believe the story hour is “inappropriate for the children of our community.”

‘These actions are criminal’

In the wake of the bomb scare, the event’s organizers, law enforcement and city and county leaders all issued statements.

“It should not have to be stated that it is unacceptable to threaten violence toward anyone,” District Attorney Heather Adams said. “These actions are criminal and law enforcement will continue to investigate to determine the source.”

The three county commissioners’ statements were as follows:

Commissioner Ray D’Agostino: “The threats that led to the cancellation of the event at the Lancaster Public Library this afternoon are deeply distressing and have no place in our community. Whoever is responsible and regardless of their motive for the terroristic threats, must be identified, apprehended, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Our County Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Management Agency and other County departments have been working with municipal officials and law enforcement during this situation.”

Commissioner Josh Parsons: “Sheriff’s office personnel, County Emergency Management Agency personnel and other County assets have been involved in the Lancaster Public Library situation, including dealing with apparent bomb threats that have been made. We continue to monitor the situation and provide assistance.

“The Binns Park, Ewell Plaza area is well covered with cameras and law enforcement can trace phone calls and communications. It is my hope and expectation that the perpetrators will be quickly caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This is true regardless of whether they actually oppose the Drag Queen Story Hour or they support it and are seeking to create outrage against those who oppose it. The consequences should be the same and extremely serious. Threats of violence have no place in our debates.”

Commissioner Alice Yoder: “I am deeply disappointed by the cancellation of the Drag Story Hour at the Lancaster Public Library today— I was looking forward to supporting the staff and watching children enjoy the reading and fun.

“I am even more disappointed in the threat of violence that caused the cancellation and the rhetoric that fed those threats. The words feeding the flame of that violence are just as dangerous as the threats themselves. We are talking about our neighbors here.”

Mayor Danene Sorace said, “We are committed to the safety of residents and visitors in Lancaster City and will hold those responsible for today’s bomb threats accountable for their actions, which disrupted the lives of thousands of residents and visitors, as well as our local business community, and wasted public resources. …

“While we respect differences in opinion and the freedom of expression, the use of fear to manipulate and control our community will not be tolerated in Lancaster City. We will not be deterred from loving our neighbors — all of them.”

Library Executive Director Lissa Holland told ABC 27, “This was an important event for our community,” and said she felt sad, disappointed and angry.

Lancaster Pride urged the community to support the library, reach out to friends and family and to “make your voice heard.”

“While we support the freedom of speech: we stand firm and cannot and we will not let hate, fear, and intimidation stop our collective movement for love and support for all,” it said.