Cops: Georgia State art project caused traffic delay in Hapeville

The same Georgia State University art project responsible for Monday’s shutdown of the Downtown Connector forced authorities in Hapeville to call in a bomb squad Tuesday after a second camera was found attached to a bridge in the south Fulton County town.

Residents and business owners told Channel 2 Action News that the suspicious device – now known to be a homemade long-exposure camera – was discovered on a pedestrian bridge near Hapeville’s train depot.

“There were a lot of officials, and a bomb squad,” business owner Ardina Pierre told Channel 2.

“They totally stopped all the traffic both ways,” she said. “They even stopped the train.”

According to a Hapeville police incident report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday, the suspicious device found around 3 p.m. Tuesday had a note on it that stated, “this can is a solargraphy project for my intro to studio class.”

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Hapeville police knew a similar device shut down the Downtown Connector a day earlier, but opted to block vehicular and pedestrian traffic and call in a bomb squad because the device, in addition to having a 12-ounce can wrapped in duct tape, also included two ¾-inch steel pipes with four electrical wires protruding from the top.

The Atlanta police bomb squad examined the device from a distance with binoculars, and later up close, and determined that it was not a pipe bomb, according to the incident report.

Hapeville police Tuesday evening posted a notice about the incident on the city’s website:

“Officers responded to the pedestrian bridge by the Train Depot at approximately 3 p.m. in reference to a suspicious package. The package turned out to be a Georgia State University student’s art project. Unfortunately, the investigation caused a minor traffic delay but the safety of our citizens must always come first.”

The tube-shaped device discovered duct-taped to the 14th Street Bridge over the Downtown Connector on Monday was 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.

“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.”

Hale said the cameras were installed in the various locations “on and after Jan. 15.”

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. On PetaPixel, a photography enthusiast blog, someone 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,” Michael Zhang wrote in a blog post.

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 writers Alexis Stevens, Steve Visser, David Markiewicz and Janel Davis contributed to this report.

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