LONDONDERRY — Reports of a man with an assault-style rifle in the median of Interstate 93 during the morning commute had police searching the highway and Route 102 for more than an hour yesterday.
“This gave us a little bit of a concern,” N.H. State Police Lt. Chris Wagner said.
But a commuter traveling from his home in Concord to work in Salem who saw a man walking along the highway, surmises the man was just retrieving part of a roof rack.
“There was no gun,” George Simon said.
Simon was concerned the man might get hit while walking on the highway during rush hour, so he called police. He was told by a dispatcher that other motorists had reported someone with a gun.
“I don’t know who called the police and said there was a man with a gun,” Simon said yesterday afternoon. “There definitely was not a gun.”
He said he remembered passing a gray or black sedan, possibly an Audi, with the back portion of the roof rack missing. He also saw a man in a business suit and a wool trench coat walking along the highway.
A state trooper later spoke with Simon and told him police are investigating.
State police Lt. Nicole Armaganian said troopers had not yet been able to confirm Simon’s man with the roof rack problem was the same subject others claimed had a gun.
But the trench coat is a common element between Simon’s description and what other callers told police.
Wagner said two callers described the subject as a white man with gray hair, wearing a black trench coat and carrying what looked like an assault style rifle.
Simon is convinced he knows what he saw, and is surprised no one else put together what happened and contacted state police.
“There must have been 500 cars that saw this guy walking up the highway,” he said.
State troopers in cruisers and a small airplane searched an area roughly one mile north and south of Exit 4. Derry and Londonderry police were deployed in the Route 102 neighborhoods east and west of the highway.
“We were on scene immediately,” after receiving the calls between 8 and 8:30 a.m., Wagner said.
Troopers on routine patrol and those participating in traffic enforcement responded, as did police from Derry and Londonderry.
The state police presence was obvious, as they were stationed on bridges over the highway.
At the beginning of the search, two heavily armed state troopers manned the northbound on-ramp at Exit 4. The search eventually moved a half-mile south of Exit 4 and state police were gathered off the road as a small plane circled overhead.
“We were unable to verify the sightings,” Wagner said, “and we received no further reports and didn’t see anything.”
The search was called off shortly before 9:30 a.m.
“There was nothing more to go on,” Wagner said.
But Wagner said troopers will continue to investigate, interviewing the callers who reported seeing the man.
“There is no need for public alarm,” he said.
The best thing would be if the person seen on the highway came forward, and the situation was benign and simply overstated by passers-by, Wagner said.
“We’re not upset at the police response,” he said. “That is what we’re here for.”
Londonderry and Derry police stopped at local businesses along Route 102 to alert them to the search.
“They just told us there was a man in the area with a gun and they gave me his description,” said Eric Roby, a cashier at the Nashua Road Mobil. “He didn’t say I needed to be worried, but he told me to be on the lookout if I saw anything.”
Public and private schools in Londonderry took precautionary steps such as locking doors, notifying parents and escorting students who had to travel outdoors between buildings.
“You’ve got to make sure you take appropriate action,” said Debra Hogan, head of school at Southern New Hampshire Montessori Academy.
Keeping parents informed was important to administrators.
Londonderry superintendent Nate Greenberg said emails went out to parents “so we could calm anybody’s potential fears.”