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Pittsburgh and area police respond to multiple active shooter threats but say they’re false calls

Multiple schools and other buildings in Pittsburgh — and around the state — were locked down Wednesday morning after receiving reports of an active shooter, although public safety officials in Pittsburgh and elsewhere later said they found no evidence of the claims.

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 determined those reports were false and began reuniting students with frightened parents and family members.

“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.

Also Wednesday morning, police responded to similar reports of active shooters involving at least two other school districts in the region. Both of those reports also were false, police said.

In Beaver County, someone called police dispatchers in Aliquippa at 10:21 a.m. to report an active shooter at the junior and senior high schools in the neighboring Hopewell Area School District, Hopewell Township Police Chief Donald Sedlacek said. Dispatchers transferred the caller to Beaver County's 911 center and to Hopewell Township police. Authorities locked down the school, and police responded in minutes to search and clear the buildings, Sedlacek said.

District officials later decided to send middle and high school students home for the rest of the day, and to cancel after-school activities. Sedlacek said police have not determined from where the call was placed.

State police in Uniontown, Fayette County, also investigated a school threat placed to the Uniontown city police department at 9:50 a.m. in which the caller reported an active shooter in Laurel Highlands High School in North Union Township, adjacent to the city. Troopers searched and cleared the school but found "nothing of concern to public safety," they said.

In central Pennsylvania, 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., according to WTAJ.

State police and the FBI in Pittsburgh both said those agencies are aware of numerous "swatting" incidents 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. State police said they are aware of such reports to schools in multiple Pennsylvania counties but declined to disclose the number or locations.

"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 Pittsburgh's 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 they lifted those precautions by late morning. 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 and 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.

School officials said Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic campuses will remain closed Thursday and Friday ahead of a previously scheduled Easter break. Students will return to classes on Tuesday, April 9.

WESA's Oliver Morrison, Jillian Forstadt, Kiley Koscinski and Christopher Ayers contributed to this report.

Updated: March 29, 2023 at 4:25 PM EDT
This story has been updated to reflect that Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic high schools will be closed Thursday and Friday.
Updated: March 29, 2023 at 3:26 PM EDT
Updated: March 29, 2023 at 12:09 PM EDT
Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community. kblackley@wesa.fm