OAKLAND — A state police remote-controlled robot on Wednesday blasted open what appeared to be a pipe bomb left on the steps of St. Theresa’s Church.

The device turned out not to be a pipe bomb, but police and the state Fire Marshal’s Office are investigating why it was left on the steps of the church, and what, exactly, it contained.

“It (contents) does not appear to be illegal,” said Sgt. Ken Grimes of the Fire Marshal’s Office at the scene.

A passerby on Church Street noticed the device on the church steps around 9 a.m. and flagged down a police officer, according to police Capt. Rick Stubbert.

Stubbert arrived to inspect the pipe, which was capped on both ends and painted gray, the same color of the steps, he said.

“I was concerned enough that we’re taking it very seriously,” Stubbert said around 10 a.m. at the scene. “It’s fashioned to look like a pipe bomb.”

Police called the fire marshal, which contacted the state police Special Services Bomb Team.

Police closed Church Street to traffic on either side of the Roman Catholic church just before 10:30 a.m. and evacuated homes within view of the church. The Fire Department and Delta Ambulance stood by at a command post set up in front of Wheeler Funeral Home on Church Street.

State police escorted the robot out of the bomb team van at 11 a.m.

The robot traveled down Church Street, turned toward St. Theresa’s and ambled over the sidewalk to the church steps.

“Fire in the hole!” Grimes shouted at 11:28 a.m. from the van’s ramp, where he was standing.

The robot fired a bullet-type charge to open the device, creating a blast.

Grimes said just before noon that the pipe did not contain any explosive material.

He would not say what the material was while the case is being investigated.

As officials worked at the scene, neighborhood residents gathered to watch.

“It’s kind of shocking that this is happening, especially at a church,” said Josh Davidson, 21, of Church Street.

He and his girlfriend, Michelle Gilley, 20, had to park down the road because police had closed off the street.

The couple watched the robot go down the street and then they heard the blast.

“Pretty exhilarating,” Davidson said. “They (police) got here quick. They got the job done. It’s amazing.”

Sue Bernard, communications director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, issued a statement Wednesday saying the church is troubled about the “alarming and disturbing incident” at their church.

“While we are grateful no one was injured and no damage occurred, we are anxious to find out the results of the police investigation and hopeful that this was not intentionally threatening,” she said.

Bernard said the Oakland church was closed for the winter, but will open soon.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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