College art project shut down Downtown Connector

Was it a bomb? A booby trap? Something else designed to cause harm?

The answer: D. None of the above.

The device duct-taped to the side of the 14th Street Bridge that forced the Downtown Connector to be emptied for more than two hours Monday was actually a college art project, officials said Tuesday. Nothing suspicious about that, but instead one obvious question: Why the heck was it there?

Those who initially blamed the students at nearby Georgia Tech should offer apologies to the Yellow Jackets. Georgia State University students — one in particular, who wasn’t identified — are to blame for the major disruption in normal Atlanta travel Monday afternoon.

The tube-shaped device that was blown up before the roads were re-opened was actually a pinhole camera being used in a solargraphy project to track the rising and setting of the sun over a three-month period, Georgia State spokesman Don Hale said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. There was no immediate word on how long the camera had been there.

“Students were instructed to take their cameras home and to place them in locations that would provide interesting scenes with bright sunlight,” Hale said. “The locations were selected by the students.”

There’s the answer. Monday’s fiasco was all the result of a take-home project that apparently one student didn’t take home.

It was up to each of the 18 students in the class to find a spot for their own project, the university said. The university was made aware of the art project Tuesday morning and, through its police department, immediately informed the Atlanta Police Department, Hale said.

Only a handful of the projects were mounted in public places, and the university and police were removing those Tuesday. No information was released on where those cameras were located.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Atlanta police said the student responsible for taping the project to the bridge could be charged with reckless conduct once the investigation is complete.

Assistant Chief Shawn Jones said the small object looked like an “explosive device” to the APD and he asked the public – particularly university students – to refrain from putting objects up in public that could be mistaken for harmful devices.

As The AJC and other news outlets broadcast images of the object on the bridge Monday, social media was filled with speculation about what it could be. A poster on the photography enthusiast blog PetaPixel correctly identified the item as a pinhole camera being used in the photography project.

“If you’re looking to do a solargraphy project by leaving a pinhole camera in a place for months, a bridge above a busy freeway is not a smart location choice,” said the post by Michael Zhang.

After news broke Tuesday morning that the “device” was actually a project, Twitter and Facebook were again the venue for those wanting to weigh in.

“If it stops 12 lanes of traffic it’s probably not art,” one person posted on Twitter.

A pinhole camera strapped to a bridge in Roanoke, Va., two years ago also brought out the bomb squad and shut down traffic before officials detonated the camera on railroad tracks below the bridge. Similar to the incident in Atlanta, police in Roanoke also received a report of a suspicious device strapped to the bridge.

—Staff writer David Markiewicz contributed to this report.

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