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School bomb threats precede stick-up at Bentleyville bank

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 11:30 a.m.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
The PNC Bank in Bentleyville was robbed on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.
The FBI is looking for assistance in identifying an individual responsible for robbing the PNC Bank, 195 Wilson Road, Bentleyville, about 9:57 a.m. Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

It's possible that those responsible for a robbery at the PNC Bank in Bentleyville Wednesday morning used phoning in a bomb threat at Bentworth High School as a distraction to lure the police away from the area of the bank.

Just after 10 a.m., police said a white male with a very thin build, wearing a black sweatshirt, jeans and black combat boots brandished a 9mm pistol and cleaned out all of the teller drawers at the bank.

The suspect appeared very pale and was wearing glasses and carrying a blue bag.

He was last seen fleeing east on Interstate 70 in a black Dodge Charger.

Minutes before the robbery, a bomb threat was called in to Bentworth High School.

The caller, believed to be an older female with a raspy voice, indicated a possible pressure cooker or backpack type bomb was involved, Hartman said.

Little did the caller know, the police, fire department, and emergency medical personnel were all ready at the school for a prom season, mock accident drill.

“The timing here is impecable,” Southwest Regional Police Chief John Hartman said. “We were all ready at the school for the drill.”

California Area High School also received a telephoned bomb threat around 10 a.m.

“There was no mention of a pressure cooker in the call,” California police Chief Rick Encapera said. “Actually, the bomb was never said to be at the school. The call said they were bringing the bomb to the school.”

Encapera said the borough's SRO (School Resource Officer) was at the school at the time of the call and immediately notified Encapera.

“My concern was stopping vehicles that were driving into the campus.”

Encapera said high school students were evacuated to the stadium adjacent to the building. They were later dismissed.

After 1:30 p.m., students were allowed back into the building to retrieve any personal belongings.

After school activities resumed after 3 p.m. with the school returning to its normal schedule today.

Encapera said middle school and elementary students remained at school for a normal day despite the threat. The building is located over the hill from the high school.

“The threat was specifically made against the high school,” Encapera said. “We wouldn't have left them in their building.”

An electronic bomb detection unit from Washington County was used throughout the school and nothing was found,” Encapera said.

Hartman and Lieutenant Steve Schwartz were in Greensburg for another matter when the threat was called into Bentworth and immediately headed back to the area.

“Minutes later, the robbery call came in,” Hartman said.

The bank was robbed in Nov. 15, 2011, by the “Nike hat bank robber.” In December 2012, Wesley Todd McCracken, 42, of Myrtle Beach, S.C. entered a guilty plea in federal court on charges stemming from 14 separate bank robberies, including the Bentleyville PNC branch.”

Hartman confirmed authorities are investigating whether the threats were directly related to the robbery.

“Are their suspicions? Of course,” Hartman said. “We don't have anything right now, though, that says that is the case. There's a possibility that it could be a perfect storm scenario, but it is odd that you have these two threats and an armed robbery within a small radius.”

Hartman said the FBI is handling the robbery case with Southwest Regional Police “actively assisting.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is assisting Southwest Regional officers with the threat investigation at Bentworth.

“We didn't know if these were separate events or connected,” Hartman said. “We worked the threat on the school so we conducted a search of the school, the exterior of the building, and all the vehicles outside.

“The phenomenal thing to watch is these different agencies working together in an orchestrated response. You have multiple badges with multiple skill sets working together.”

Everyone from the school districts, superintendent, teachers, EMS ... to the maintenance staff.

“Do I feel confident we're going to be address who did this?,” Hartman asked. “Yes I do. We have some good leads that we're working on. I'm very confident that we'll make an arrest.”