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Schools, buildings around Pennsylvania go on lockdown after false reports of active shooter threats

  • Katie Blackley/WESA
Parents wait for their children following the evacuation of several schools in Pittsburgh's East End on Wednesday, March 29.

 Oliver Morrision / 90.5 WESA

Parents wait for their children following the evacuation of several schools in Pittsburgh's East End on Wednesday, March 29.

Multiple schools and other buildings in Pittsburgh — and around the state — are on lockdown Wednesday morning after receiving reports of an active shooter, although public safety officials in Pittsburgh and elsewhere say they have no evidence of the claim at this time.

Pittsburgh police were first alerted to the threat at Central and Oakland Catholic high schools in Oakland shortly before 10:30 a.m. Allegheny County officials later said in a statement that three separate 911 calls alleged that an active shooter was at multiple schools. Within an hour, however, police said they believed those reports were false and were making plans to reunite students with frightened parents and family members.

Pennsylvania State Police said in a Tweet that ” We are investigating a series of phone calls made to 9-1-1 centers involving threats of an active shooter situation or bomb threat at PA schools. At this time, all claims in these calls have been determined to be false. The investigation is ongoing.”

“Thus far, there has been no active shooter found and no injuries at any school. Law enforcement will continue to thoroughly check out any reports,” the statement read.

State police also responded to Laurel Highlands High School in Fayette County this morning for reporters of an active shooter there. They also determined that the report was false.

In the eastern part of the state, public safety agencies were on the scene for similar reports at Bishop Carroll High School in Ebensburg, Cambria County, and at schools in Altoona and Hollidaysburg in Blair County and Bellefonte in Centre County after 9 a.m. this morning, according to WTAJ.

The FBI in Pittsburgh said it is aware of numerous “swatting” incident in which an active shooter was reported at schools on Wednesday morning. “Swatting” involves placing a false 911 call to draw police SWAT teams and other officers to a location in the belief that lives are in danger there.

“The FBI takes swatting very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk,” the agency said in a statement. “While we have no information to indicate a specific and credible threat, we will continue to work with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to gather, share, and act upon threat information as it comes to our attention. We urge the public to remain vigilant, and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately.

The initial report at Central Catholic on Fifth Avenue prompted police to swarm to the school and surrounding neighborhood to search for a person with a gun and ensure students were safe. Dozens of police officers, firefighters and EMS crews pushed through traffic to get to the scene and don protective clothing in response to the initial report. Police also began clearing nearby Oakland Catholic around 10:45 a.m.

Employees at the WQED studios next door to Central Catholic also were told to avoid the area. Officials at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University also locked down those schools briefly, but those precautions have since been lifted. At Point Park University Downtown, police notified students and faculty and asked them to avoid Oakland due to the heavy police presence there.

Shortly after 11 a.m., Central spokesperson Brian Cook said students had been in a “shelter-in-place situation” for 25-30 minutes until police cleared the building determined “the school is free and clear right now. He said they were not initially sure what triggered the initial report but that they were “still working on figuring that out.”

“Whether it came from the school or was a call to the police first…it’s unclear,” he said. Parents and family members of students received electronic messages to alert them that students were safe but that a police perimeter still existed around the campus.

While police searched the building, worried relatives initially were directed to wait at Rodef Shalom Congregation across Fifth Avenue, then later to St. Paul Cathedral at Fifth Avenue and Dithridge Streets. Police who were not typically assigned to Oakland began to disperse from the area around noon.

WESA’s Oliver Morrison and Jillian Forstadt contributed to this report.

The Bellefonte Area High School was evacuated Wednesday

WPSU’s Emily Reddy and Anne Danahy report:

Emily Reddy / WPSU

A parent hugged her daughter outside the Bellefonte Area High School football field, where students were gathered by police after what they say was a hoax shooting threat on March 29, 2023.

Students were evacuated from the Bellefonte Area High School Wednesday morning, after police received a threatening phone call, one of several across the state police are saying are not credible, according to local and state police.

According to Bellefonte police, a man called the threat into their office, claiming that multiple students had been shot in a high school bathroom. Police said that was hoax.

Bellefonte Borough Chief of Police Shawn Weaver said about 70 police officers from about 15 different agencies responded to the threat. It took about an hour and a half to clear the building.

“I’m pleased to say there was no actual threat,” Weaver said. “It wasn’t known at the time that there was no actual threat.”

He said teachers, staff and students did a great job following lock down protocol.

“When we were doing the initial search — I was there helping — out of every door we checked we did not see one student. We did not find one door unlocked. And I knew there had to have been students in all those doors we checked. Lights were out. It was textbook,” Weaver said.

Bellefonte Area School District Superintendent Tammie Burnaford said they’d brought in counselors from across the county to work with students as they waited for parents to come get them or to be released by the school.

“It’s been a pretty traumatic day for some of our kids, so we’ve decided to send them home, or let them go home, for the day,” Burnaford said.

Burnaford said the other schools in the district were sheltered in place during the event and they were letting those students go for the day too. She said they were planning to have schools open as usual on Thursday.

Emily Reddy / WPSU

Bellefonte Borough Chief of Police Shawn Weaver talks to reporters as Bellefonte Area School District students were sent home after a hoax threat to the school. Bellefonte Area School District Superintendent Tammie Burnaford (left) said counselors from across the county had been called in to work with students.

In a news release, the Pennsylvania State Police say they are “investigating a series of phone calls made to 911 centers about schools across the Commonwealth involving threats of an active shooter situation or bomb threat.”

Police said the claims in all the calls were found to be false, and of the schools that were threatened were either cleared or are in the process of being cleared. The calls were made to several schools in different counties and had similar content.

According to state police, all of the claims in the calls have been determined to be false.

The State College Area School District administration sent an email saying that after the threat to the Bellefonte Area High School the State College Area School District is “working on increasing police presence at all district buildings for the remainder of the day. Elementary students will remain inside for recess today and physical education classes will remain inside, as well. Other than these precautions, all school operations will run as normal.”

A post on the Mifflin County School District website says that, “Nationwide there are false computer generated 911 calls being sent claiming that specific schools are involved with an Active Shooter Event. All these calls have been unfounded and considered a hoax.”

The Mifflin County School District did not receive the call.

Weaver said he’s planning an after-action review to see what they might do better next time.

“We always learn from these,” Weaver said. “And tomorrow or the next day, we will sit down with every agency that was involved, including the school district.”

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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