National Solar Observatory, USPS office in Sunspot, NM evacuated for ‘safety reasons’

National Solar Observatory, USPS office in Sunspot, NM evacuated for 'safety reasons'

SUNSPOT, New Mexico – The National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico, and a nearby United States Postal Service office, were evacuated for security reasons Thursday, observatory officials said.

The Cloudcroft Post Office, which is about 15 miles north of Sunspot, also remains closed.

ABC 7 has confirmed that the Post Office will not be re-opened until further notice and cannot be re-opened until approved by local law enforcement officials.


ABC-7 Monday spoke with Shari Lifson, who is with Aura, the company that co-manages the Observatory with NMSU. Lifson told ABC 7 there is no time-table for the Observatory to be re-opened.

“We have decided to temporarily vacate this facility as a precautionary measure. And we’re working with the proper authorities on this issue,” Association for Universities for Research in Astronomy spokeswoman Sheri Lofson said.

National Solar Observatory, USPS office in Sunspot, NM evacuated for 'safety reasons'

Friday, both properties remained closed to the public, with yellow caution tape around the property.

Update: The post office near Sunspot also remains closed. Its employees have been temporarily transferred to the post office in Cloudcroft, a USPS official told ABC-7.

ABC-7 has confirmed the post office in Sunspot will not be re-opened until further notice and cannot be re-opened until approved by local law enforcement officials.

ABC-7 Monday spoke with Shari Lifson, who is with Aura, the company that co-manages the Observatory with NMSU. Lifson told ABC 7 there is no time-table for the Observatory to be re-opened.

ABC-7 als reached out the FBI, but did hear back from the federal agency in time for deadline. The FBI did speak with local law enforcement about the length of the Observatory closure.

“They spoke with my sergeant initially and they said that they would be down for a few days so that could be anywhere from a few days to months, from my past experience,” said Sheriff Benny House.

National Solar Observatory, USPS office in Sunspot, NM evacuated for 'safety reasons'

Sunspot is located in the Sacramento Mountains in Otero County about 15 miles south of Cloudcroft. There is currently a working telescope at the observatory, where New Mexico State University also conducts research.

“As locals I feel that we should know what’s going on around us,” Cloudcroft resident Roger Wiley said.

A spokesman for the Otero County Sheriff’s Office said they are not involved in the investigation.

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy who manages the facility is addressing a security issue at this time,” Lifson said. “We have decided to vacate the facility at this time as precautionary measure. It was our decision to evacuate the facility.”

She said she cannot comment on the specifics of the security issue.

She said the facility is closed to the public and Sunspot employees.

“We don’t know that yet (when the facility will open again),” Lifson said. “We are working with the proper authorities on this issue. The local authorities do know and are aware of the situation. I don’t know when the facility was vacated but it was within the last day. It’s a temporary evacuation of the facility. We open it up as soon as possible.”

A post office in the area has also been shut down.

“Right now, what we’re told is that they’ve temporarily evacuated the area. We haven’t been told why or when that expires,” said Rod Spurgeon, a spokesman with the USPS.

Otero County Sheriff Benny House said the Otero County Sheriff’s Office was asked to standby.

“The FBI is refusing to tell us what’s going on,” House said. “We’ve got people up there (at Sunspot) that requested us to standby while they evacuate it. Nobody would really elaborate on any of the circumstances as to why. The FBI were up there. What their purpose was nobody will say.”

He said he has a lot of unanswered question about what occurred at Sunspot.

“But for the FBI to get involved that quick and be so secretive about it, there was a lot of stuff going on up there,” House said. “There was a Blackhawk helicopter, a bunch of people around antennas and work crews on towers but nobody would tell us anything.”

House said he pulled his deputies from the facility after there was no identifiable threat.

“They wanted us up there to help evacuate but nobody would tell us anything,” he said. “We went up there and everything was good. There was no threat. Nobody would identify any specific threat. We hung out for a little while then we left. No reason for us to be there. Nobody would tell us what we’re supposed to be watching out for.”

House said he doesn’t understand why Sunspot didn’t call or notify them of the situation.

“They’re not federal employees,” he said. “It maybe somebody who threatened one of their workers. If that’s the case, why didn’t call us and let us deal with it. These guys are regular workers that work for this company. I don’t know why the FBI would get involved so quick and not tell us anything.”

Deer Park residents evacuated until suspicious package cleared by bomb squad.

Three blocks of homes were evacuated Friday in the Deer Park subdivision area north of Ruidoso after a suspicious package was spotted.

Lincoln County Undersheriff Mike Wood said residents over a three-block area were out of their homes from about 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The package turned out to be an empty black briefcase that had been propped up against an address post.

“About 11 a.m., we got a call about a suspicious package in the 100 block of Deer Park,” Wood said. “Our deputy found a black briefcase leaned up against an address marker in front of one of the homes out there. Erring on the side of caution, we called in the state police, who sent out their explosive ordnance division out of Roswell.”

They state officers investigated and found the briefcase was empty, he said. Someone may have propped it up to call attention, thinking it was lost, but authorities can’t take a chance, he said.

“We have cleared the scene and the people are back home,” Wood said about 4 p.m., Friday.

“Officers with New Mexico Game and Fish came out and helped us with traffic control when we evacuated,” he said. “We just cleared it (for the residents’ return). We sure do want to thank those bomb squad guys. Those fellows, God be with every one of them, because you just never know. Watching them in action, they don’t get the credit they deserve.”

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