HONOLULU — A live mortar round was found in a vehicle at a gate to the sprawling Pearl Harbor military base, shutting down the base for hours and leading three people to be taken into custody, military officials said Wednesday.
It’s not clear what the trio planned to do or where they wanted to go when they were stopped late Tuesday, base spokesman Charles Anthony said, calling the mortar round an “explosive device” and “deadly weapon.”
A mortar is a portable weapon that is loaded and fired by dropping an exploding shell into a tube. Anthony said no firing device was in the car. He said the round could be modified and triggered by something other than a traditional mortar tube, but no detonation system was found in the vehicle.
Hundreds of people, usually lost, end up at the Pearl Harbor gate daily and are turned around if they don’t have proper identification to enter, Anthony said.
“The security guard first noticed the smell of marijuana and then looked inside the vehicle and saw what was potential ordnance,” Anthony said.
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam was shut down to traffic around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday while a bomb squad investigated the vehicle that appeared at the Nimitz Gate without authorization, the Navy said in a statement.
The base’s gates were closed for about two hours, but no one was allowed through the Nimitz Gate until early Wednesday. There were no injuries.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating and took custody of the three suspects, Anthony said.
The spokesman said he didn’t want to speculate about whether NCIS is looking at a possible plot against the base.
"It's very strange that this vehicle had a live mortar round in it," Anthony said.
There were no details immediately available about the three people in custody or their vehicle.
An NCIS spokesman said he would look into whether there were any details he could release about the investigation.
The base is home to a naval shipyard where an active-duty U.S. sailor opened fire on three civilian employees in December, killing two of them. Officials have said the sailor, whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, then took his own life.
The shooting happened days before dignitaries and veterans attended the base’s ceremony to mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Associated Press writer Caleb Jones contributed to this report.
Navy Times editor’s note: There’s been an update to the story. It apparently was an inert round with no explosives inside. Officials released the trio.