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Days After Synagogue Shooting, An Uneasy Morning As Squirrel Hill School Goes On Lockdown

Four days after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, an anonymous threat prompted a nearby elementary school to go on lockdown and sent Squirrel Hill parents rushing over to check on their children.

Police with K-9s searched the two buildings that make up Colfax, Pittsburgh’s largest elementary school serving 950 students in grades K-8. The search came up empty-handed.

“Your brain goes racing,” said Kristina Ruane, one of dozens of parents gathered outside the school Wednesday morning waiting to learn what was going on inside. “Is it a shooter? Is it a bomb threat? I had no idea, so I basically jumped in the car and came down here as fast as I could.”

Ruane had filled her car with cider and popcorn ahead of afternoon festivities scheduled in her daughters’ classes. She said the students were excited to change into their Halloween costumes for a parade and parties, and she worried the lockdown could ruin the holiday.

Chris Togneri, a spokesperson for Pittsburgh police, said the scene inside was calm.

“There are a bunch of kids watching a cartoon movie in the library,” he said.

Just last week, Ruane’s daughters in second and sixth grades went through lockdown drills. An administrator said every public school in the Pittsburgh school district is going through the training this month.

Ruane’s daughters came home last week with a lot to say.

“They talked about their different options if somebody came into their room. They could throw books at them. They might have to go out windows,” she said. “It’s a little surreal.”

Assistant Superintendent Melissa Friez said the school is providing extra support for students and staff.

“We know that this week has been terribly hard for our community, and we want to make sure everybody is provided for,” she said.

Once police cleared the Colfax school, parents waiting outside were allowed to see their kids. Some took them home, but many students stayed to continue the school day.

Togneri said local law enforcement and the FBI will try to figure out who placed the anonymous threat.

Meanwhile, Squirrel Hill parents will continue to talk to their kids about the difficult week.

Ruane and her daughters attended a march Tuesday evening through the neighborhood amid President Trump’s visit to Tree of Life. She said her girls were proud to take part.

“They felt we did something good,” she said. “They know words have a lot of power and that kind words have as much power as evil words. That’s what we talk about.”