Liquor bottle mistaken for gun triggers massive response at west Bradenton church

MANATEE -- A Bradenton man was detained for observation Wednesday after numerous law enforcement officers, including the Manatee County Sheriff's Office SWAT team, surrounded a church in west Bradenton while responding to a reported threat, according to Sheriff Brad Steube.

The 31-year-old man entered The Bridge Church at Palma Sola Bay, 4000 75th St. W., and wanted to talk to someone at 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to reports. He first talked to a secretary and then the pastor.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said deputies received a call someone at the church was acting suspicious and erratic. Church members tried to counsel the man but when he said he felt like he wanted to hurt someone, law enforcement was called. Witnesses were able to leave the church, according to the report.

"When they heard that, they saw what they thought could be a weapon and they became alarmed and law enforcement got involved," Bristow said. "What they thought might be a gun was a liquor bottle."

The bottle found on the man contained MD 20/20, a fortified wine.

Deputies initially said the man would be charged with trespassing and burglary. According to Bristow, the sheriff's office won't charge the man with burglary because he was given food first reported to be stolen. No criminal charges will be filed against the man.

Steube, who was on scene Wednesday evening, said deputies set up a perimeter before calling the SWAT team.

"The assistant pastor believed that he saw a gun on the waistband, although that was never threatened," Steube said.

At 6:31 p.m., Steube said a man had been arrested after deputies entered the church at 5:51 p.m.

"We did not locate a gun. He said he didn't have a gun ... so we'll bring in one of the canines and do an article search," Steube then said.

Out of extreme caution the sheriff's office sent at least a couple dozen deputies, including a SWAT team, with a sheriff's office helicopter hovering overhead.

Onlookers readily discussed the situation.

Vanessa Caceres, 41, stood with her son, Carlo Caceres, 11, by the corner of 75th Street West and 40th Avenue West. The fifth-grader said he was walking home from school when he saw helicopters hovering over the area.

"At first, for some weird reason I thought it was Google Maps because I thought there was a camera on it," Carlo said. "And then I realized that it was the sheriff. ... and then I was wondering why it would be there."

Mother and son said they then heard the sheriff's office loudspeaker.

"It's surprising," Caceres said. "We're usually a pretty quiet community."

Pamela White, 48, and her husband, Brad White, 68, stood nearby. The couple, who said their daughter works at The Bridge Church, live across the street. Law enforcement assured them their daughter was fine -- she wasn't at the church during the incident.

The Whites said they attend The Bridge Church.

"We're mainly out here just praying that this will come out safe without anyone getting hurt too badly," Brad said. "Sometimes you just want to be here to pray."

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, contributed to this report.

Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.