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MacDill Lockdown After Report Of Armed Suspect Brings Fears For The Worst

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Traffic around MacDill Air Force Base was backed up after a lockdown was lifted. STEPHANIE COLOMBINI/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa was placed on lockdown early Friday morning amid concerns of an armed suspect on or near the base. Authorities eventually learned there was no threat, but the incident had some residents fearing the worst.

The lockdown lasted about an hour and was lifted around 8 a.m., a MacDill spokesman said.

The base received notice of a potential armed suspect near the Tanker Way gate area around 7 a.m., the spokesman said, and social media posts showed MacDill sent an active shooter alert to personnel just after 7 a.m.

St. Petersburg Police say they investigated a domestic incident in which a 54-year-old armed man damaged the door of the apartment of his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend on Gandy Blvd N., then alerted MacDill officials as a precaution that he may near the base.

That man had left the scene when officers arrived, but he was arrested later in Hernando County, police said.

Officials said the situation was isolated to the area near the gate, and opened all other entrances to the base.

The lockdown caused traffic to back up approaching the base and created confusion for many drivers in the area.

Robert Lee, 63, was caught in the traffic jam on his way to work at a nearby construction site. He stopped at a gas station near the base and breathed a sigh of relief when he learned there was no threat. Lee said when he first heard about the lockdown, thoughts of the country’s tensions with Iran were on his mind. 

"What the President has done overseas, you know it might be payback,” he said.

He was referring to President Trump's decision to order a drone strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, last week.

“I don’t know what’s coming to America today, all this shooting and killing and violence, it’s unnecessary,” he said.

At the nearby Ballast Point Park, 64 year-old South Tampa resident Joanna Dunlap's mind went in a different direction when she saw reports of an active shooter on Facebook. She thought of recent fatal shootings at military bases in Pensacola and Hawaii. 

“It was scary, especially heading down this way (toward the base)” she said.

Like Lee, Dunlap was also stuck in traffic during the lockdown, and said it took her an hour to drive along Interbay Boulevard from Westshore Boulevard to South Dale Mabry Highway, a distance that normally takes about five minutes.

But both said the inconvenience was well worth it to know the area is safe and commended MacDill authorities for how they handled the situation.

"I trust in our military, you know, and those men and women, that's what they do,” she said. “They have taken an oath to keep us safe, and with technology now we've got so much more than we used to have, so I think we're going to be fine. I just don't want people's fear to overcome them."

Though the incident ended up being a false alarm, base officials said it was a good test for how to react during a real threat.

“We all took this very seriously, and I know it may have been inconvenient for a lot of folks during the morning commute," said Col. Steve Snelson, commander of the 6th Air Refueling Wing. "But when it comes to the safety of our service members as well as our families, we’re always going to go with the better approach and be conservative."

This is a developing story. Stay with WUSF 89.7 and wusfnews.org for updates.