In a climactic scene late on Wednesday, bomb squad specialists safely freed Madeleine Pulver after 10 harrowing hours with the device attached around her neck. The 18-year-old was not hurt and police later determined the device contained no explosives.
A note of demands had been attached to the device, New South Wales state Police Detective Superintendent Luke Moore said, though he declined to specify what the demands were.
“We are treating this as an attempted extortion — a very serious attempted extortion,” Moore said.
He also quashed any suggestions that Pulver, who was questioned for several hours yesterday, could have been involved in planning the sophisticated hoax. When asked if she was a person of interest in the case, he said the schoolgirl was nothing but “the victim”.
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. Neighbouring homes were evacuated, streets were closed and medical and fire crews waited nearby.
Pulver told police a man wearing a mask broke into her home and confronted her while she was studying in the kitchen. The teen said the man forced her to stay still while he fitted the device to her neck, and then fled.
The family lives in one of Sydney’s ritziest areas and her father, William Pulver, is head of an information technology company. Yesterday, he fought back tears as he talked about his daughter’s horrifying ordeal.
“We as parents are extraordinarily proud of Maddy,” William Pulver said, his equally tearful wife Belinda at his side. “I think she has woken up this morning in pretty good spirits. She’s a little tired, a little sore, from holding this damned device in place for about 10 hours.”
Forensics officers spent the night combing through the family’s three-storey home and scouring the surrounding streets for evidence.
Moore said they had not identified a prime suspect and are trying to figure out how the man got into the house.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard told Fairfax Radio, “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’.”