NBC10 Philadelphia - Ted Greenberg
The Atlantic City Public Safety Building was evacuated Tuesday when a man began to spray a fire extinguisher. NBC10's Ted Greenberg reports.
The uncle of a former Penn State football player accused of attacking several police officers claims his nephew had issues years before Tuesday's alleged attack.
"He was diagnosed as bipolar," said Don Myers. "He gets manic when he doesn't take his medicine and that's been a concern for a lot of people. But he's never really harmed anybody. He doesn't have any type of violent issues."
Myers' nephew, 29-year-old Thomas McHugh of Drexel Hill, allegedly attacked several officers with a fire extinguisher inside the Atlantic City Police headquarters Tuesday morning.
The incident took place on the fourth floor of the Atlantic City Public Safety Building on 2715 Atlantic Avenue. Police say McHugh was standing in a restricted area inside the building shortly after 8 a.m.
"He was asked what he was doing up there," said Sergeant Monica McMenamin. "He initially started rambling. He then grabbed a wall mounted fire extinguisher and started to spray the officers right in the face."
Several officers struggled to subdue McHugh as the entire building, which houses the police and fire departments as well as municipal court, was evacuated. The fourth floor, which consists of mostly administrative offices, became filled with white powder from the extinguisher.
"People who were breathing it were having trouble breathing," said Sybil Victor, an AC Fire Department employee.
McHugh also damaged the building's press conference room during the attack, according to police.
Eventually the officers were able to apprehend McHugh. He, along with nine police officers, one firefighter and five civilian workers were all taken to the hospital. They were treated for breathing problems and irritated eyes. Some of them required oxygen, according to police. Other officers were treated at the scene. The evacuation was over by 9:45 a.m. but the situation continued. Municipal courts were canceled for the day and all civilian employees were sent home as the fourth floor was cleaned.
Prior to today's incident, police say McHugh was arrested twice Monday night. Investigators say the first arrest was for being disorderly and scaring kids on a street. The second arrest occurred after he allegedly stole items from a convenience store. After being booked, McHugh spent the night in lockup and was released Tuesday morning, minutes before he ended up on the fourth floor.
"How he remained in the building is what we need to find out," said McMenamin. "How did he get back in the building? Was a door ajar? It was right at the change of shifts. Our security system is obviously going to be evaluated and improved upon."
McHugh played football for Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill. After high school, he then played football for Penn State as an offensive lineman. In October of 2003, he was dismissed from the team, according to ESPN. ESPN reports he was issued citations for harassment, public drunkenness and underage drinking after he allegedly slapped a woman in the face. The article also states that McHugh's uncle had played for Paterno who had known the family since the 1970's.
Myers says he's unsure why McHugh was in Atlantic City on Monday.
"He just kind of got away from the family and didn't contact anybody," he said.
All of the victims in Tuesday's attack were released from the hospital. McHugh remains hospitalized however and is charged with several offenses, including assaulting police officers. He is scheduled to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.