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March 22, 2012

CL bomb threats investigated

Staff, faculty and students awaited the all-clear signal to re-enter the Cathedral of Learning following a bomb threat on March 19.

Staff, faculty and students awaited the all-clear signal to re-enter the Cathedral of Learning following a bomb threat on March 19.

Pitt police have identified a suspect in bomb threats that forced two evacuations of the Cathedral of Learning within the span of less than a week.

Pitt Police Chief Tim Delaney would not elaborate on the person’s identity, saying the threats remain under investigation.

According to Pitt police, the building was cleared on March 14 in response to the discovery of a message written in black marker on the door of a men’s room stall on the Cathedral of Learning’s ground floor. It read: “911 I Have Planted A Bomb In This Building” and the date “Wednesday, March 14, 2012.”

Monday’s evacuation was the result of a message in what appeared to be the same handwriting that read, “There is A Bomb in The Building March 19, 2012” and the words, “This is not a joke!!” That threat also was found written on a stall in the ground floor men’s room.

The general nature of the bomb threats, which specified no time or exact location, set into action Pitt’s Emergency Notification System (ENS) messaging and forced the evacuation of the entire 42-story building until explosives dogs from Pitt and other law enforcement agencies could scan the building.

Each threat was declared cleared within about two hours, according to ENS message time stamps.

Delaney said the eyes and ears of the University community could provide important details in case another threat is made. “Somebody, somewhere saw the person,” he said, asking individuals to report unusual activity.

Pitt Police Lt. Dave Kirchner advised people to be observant of anyone carrying markers, or lingering or acting suspiciously in restrooms. “Don’t intervene,” he said. Instead, he asked individuals to call police (4-2121) with details about the person’s appearance and direction of travel. “Even if it proves to be nothing,” he said, “let us run it down.”

The threats inconvenience students, staff and faculty, and are especially difficult for those people in the building with mobility issues or other handicaps that make evacuation difficult, police said.

Kirchner said at least a half-dozen people who regularly occupy the building require assistance from the police to evacuate.

While police had no estimate of the costs of each evacuation, Kirchner noted that a woman who was charged in making bomb threats to University buildings in 2008 was required to repay the costs incurred by the police department in responding to the threat. According to published reports, former Pitt student Louisa Ewuresi Nkrumah of Harrisburg agreed to pay $8,000 and perform community service as part of a pre-trial diversion program.

No link to false alarms

Initial suspicions that the March 14 bomb threat might be linked to a man who on the same day pulled fire alarms in four buildings on Pitt’s campus were discounted because the suspect charged in the false alarm case was in jail when the second bomb threat was made.

Carnegie Mellon police arrested Nicholas Engler, 39, of Shadyside on March 14 on 21 charges related to fire alarms that were pulled at CMU shortly after the false alarms on the Pitt campus.

According to Pitt police, Engler pulled fire alarms at the Cathedral of Learning, Hillman Library, Posvar Hall and the Frick Fine Arts Building as well as at the Carnegie Museum before activating seven alarms at Carnegie Mellon.

He was arrested by Carnegie Mellon police and charged with seven counts of filing false alarms and seven counts of trespassing, in addition to aggravated assault, aggravated harassment by a prisoner, drug possession and weapons charges.

Pitt police on March 16 filed four counts each of false alarm and trespassing charges against Engler in connection with the University campus incidents.

At press time Engler remained in the Allegheny County Jail, unable to post $25,000 bail.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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