(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
BROOKLINE -- The FBI operation caused a stir in Brookline today, shattering the calm of a routine Thursday morning.
The operation at a Mobil station near Coolidge Corner, which began around 6 a.m., was part of the investigation into the failed Times Square bombing on May 1.
Laurisa Sellers, 59, who lives in the area, was walking down Harvard Street to meet a friend when she saw the police and FBI activity at 198 Harvard St., near the United Parish Church.
"Of course nobody wants to live close to these things," Seller said about the possibility of a connection to the New York bomb plot. "In this day and age, we all have to be very careful. ... But you can't live in an urban area and live in fear.''
Agents removed several boxes of material taken from repair bays and placed them in one of the authorities' vehicles. Authorities spent a lot of time inspecting a silver Honda, which was parked at the gas station, and appeared to remove some items from that vehicle.
Around 10:40 a.m., Elias Audy, the owner of this Harvard Street station and active in Brookline civic affairs, left the premises, along with a woman. They waved off more than a dozen reporters following them down Harvard Street, declining comment.
The pair ultimately entered a car more than several blocks away, and Audy, as he entered the car, told a Globe reporter, "When the time comes, I'll talk," said Audy, who also owns another gas station at Route 9 and Cypress St., which was visited by authorities today but which remained open.
Around 11:15 a.m., a tall man with gray hair, who had been talking with law enforcement authorities at the Harvard Street station, left to retrieve his orange SUV with dealer plates, which was parked on nearby Marion Street. When asked why he was being questioned, he replied, "I have nothing to do with this."
He ultimately drove his SUV from Marion Street onto the gas station plaza, and talked a bit more with authorities. He later drove away in the vehicle, along with a male passenger.
Agents from the FBI and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, joined by Brookline police, finished their work by 11:45 a.m. The silver Honda, which was heavily inspected by the FBI, remained at the gas station, which remained closed this afternoon.
Authorities did not appear to take anyone at the site into custody.
At the station, two large American flags fluttered on a silver pole in front of the building. The gas station, located between a senior citizen complex and the church, is popular among residents for its large plaza with multiple gas pumps as well as its annual car inspections. Inside the office, community service awards lined a wall.
Along the front window was a taped citation saying the station had helped secure $500 grants for two local schools through the Mobil Corp. Audy is also active with the local Rotary Club.
Thursday afternoon, neighbors described Audy as a community activist and philanthropist.
"When you think of the phrase 'pillar of the community,' Audy is the kind of man you're talking about," said Roger Lipson, chairman of the board at the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. Before Lipson served as chairman, the post was held by Audy; Audy was also president of the Chamber of Commerce and awarded the Chamber's 1996 Businessman of the Year Award.
"I have considered Elias (Audy) and his wife, Laurde, friends for years," Lipson said. "I've been to their house. They're very generous people. They have come over during funerals, and shared their happiness with me when their daughter, Zana, recently graduated from Northeastern Law School. And Audy has taken care of my 17-year-old Jeep for years. That station is like an old country general store, it's where everyone goes to meet their neighbors. I just can't believe this is happening."
Howard Kranz lives on the sixth floor of the John W. Kickham Apartments, next door to the gas station.
Kranz said he left his building at 9:15 this morning and saw an FBI agent in the lot. He assumed the situation might have something to do with terrorism.
"I used to go into that place a lot for lottery tickets," Kranz said. "The people were very openly cordial and friendly. But the issue is what their real sentiments were. ..We don't have the luxury of being foolish or reckless in this country anymore."
Willa Macallen, who lives at the elderly housing complex next to the station, said many senior citizens in her building like to visit the Mobil station to buy snacks. She said they cannot walk far, so the station is convenient. She wonders if this FBI visit of the station will hurt the gas station's image in the community.
"I worry they'll lose business," she said.
After the yellow tape was removed and the FBI left, Brookline Police Chief Daniel O'Leary, who was on the scene, would not comment on the investigation. But he stressed that Brookline remains a safe place.
"This is not targeting Brookline," he said of the operation.