MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Martinsburg City Police Department had to be evacuated Thursday evening for a bomb threat during the City Council meeting.

The evening was also punctuated by protests calling for the city to issue a proclamation supporting a ceasefire in Gaza.

Martinsburg Mayor Kevin Knowles tells MetroNews/The Panhandle News Network that they had just finished the “Petitions from Citizens” portion of the meeting and were getting ready to go ahead with the rest of the agenda for the evening whenMartinsburg Police Department Deputy Chief Matthew Zollinger “came in and told us there was a bomb threat called in.”

Mayor Knowles says police evacuated the audience out the front door and the elected officials out the back door.

The city council moved up the street to a local law office and continued the meeting. “We posted (the meeting) and finished it a Bowles Rice,” according to the mayor.
“We weren’t going to allow this to stop the meeting.”

For the third city council meeting in a row, a pro-Palestinian group was in attendance to petition the council regarding a ceasefire proclamation for the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Mayor Knowles says at times they have had as many as 70 such petitioners in attendance. On Thursday, there were about 50.

He says they speak during the public comment period of the meeting, but like anyone else, is limited to two minutes. “When it’s petition from citizens, there is a two minute limit, then we cut you off,” Mayor Knowles says.

Speaking to the timing of the bomb threat just after the public comment period, he says, “I cannot deny or confirm that it was related to the protestors.

I’m not placing blame on anyone,” according to the mayor, who says, “it was just very coincidental.”

Mayor Knowles says the building and vehicles were checked out by bomb dogs.

“This is not going to stop the city from doing business as normal,” Knowles says.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation had sent out a call for protestors to “Pack the Council for Palestine” in a post on social media;

“The people demand a ceasefire! Last month, we delivered a petition demanding that the City of Martinsburg adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to all US funding of the Israeli military. To date, the City Council has ignored our demands and any request for a meeting.
We’re calling on all people of good conscience to join us this Thursday at 6:30pm as we once again call on our local officials to adopt a ceasefire resolution.
If you would like to speak, please be prepared to do so.”

The group presented a petition with 200 signatures, which Mayor Knowles says he hasn’t had a chance to verify the legitimacy of the names.

As for the group’s aim, which is that the city officially issue a proclamation calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, Mayor Knowles says, he has had “no direction from council,” regarding issuing such a proclamation, and “I have no desire to do that.”

“We will take care of what we need to take care of to keep our community safe,” and while he says, “I respect how they have come and presented themselves” during the public comment period, if the bomb threat does turn out to be related to the protests, it won’t influence the city’s actions regarding the petition. ” We will not be bullied,” according to the mayor.

The city council is meeting in the George Karos Community room while renovations continue at the City Hall building in downtown Martinsburg.