In a scene that could have been straight from a Hollywood thriller, bomb squad specialists worked for 10 horrifying hours to free 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver from a bomb-like device she said was chained to her neck by a man in disguise who entered her suburban Sydney home in the afternoon. She was not hurt, and officials managed to free her around midnight.
New South Wales state Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Murdoch said Thursday that specialists had determined the device contained no explosives. Murdoch said the man apparently had also left a threatening note in the house with specific demands that police would not describe.
"A very, very elaborate hoax as it turned out," Murdoch told reporters. "But it was made and certainly gave the appearance of a legitimate improvised explosive device. We had to treat it seriously until we could prove otherwise and that's exactly what we did and that's why it took so long."
Murdoch said the device had been attached to the girl "by a chain or something similar," which took officers a long time to remove. He declined to describe the disguise the attacker wore.
The drama began on Wednesday afternoon in the upscale Sydney suburb of Mosman when Pulver's family contacted police saying their daughter had been attacked and there was a strange device attached to her. Bomb technicians, negotiators and detectives rushed to the scene. Nearby homes were evacuated, streets were closed and medical and fire crews waited nearby.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was shocked when she heard about the case on Thursday.
"When I looked at it this morning, the first thing I said was, 'It's like a Hollywood script - the kind of thing you would see at the cinema or on TV,"' Gillard told Fairfax Radio. "You would never expect it to happen in real life in Australia."
Police said they had no idea why Pulver was targeted, but they said the attack did not appear to be random.
"I hardly think that the elaborate nature and sophistication of this device was the result of someone who picked on someone randomly," Murdoch said.
The family also was at a loss to explain the bizarre attack, he said.
"The offender went to a lot of trouble for a particular reason, but what that reason was, police are still working to determine," Murdoch said.
Murdoch said a note was left inside the house, but did not release details on what it said.
"There were some instructions left by the offender at the scene last afternoon and those instructions will provide us with further lines for inquiry," Murdoch told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "Those instructions also limited us somewhat last night in how quickly we could proceed. Certainly the instructions were precise, they were such that led us to believe that we were dealing with a very serious and legitimate threat."
The harborside suburb of Mosman is one of the ritziest parts of Sydney. Murdoch said it was too soon for police to determine whether the device was left as part of an extortion attempt on the teen's family.
Pulver was examined and released from a Sydney hospital on Thursday. Students at the private girls' school she attends were being offered counseling.
"The school community is united behind the student and her family, and we thank God that she is not hurt," Wenona School officials said in a statement.