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Real or not, bomb threats disrupting school day

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Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Penn Hills School District Superintendent Thomas Washington wants the person or people issuing bomb threats — five since the start of school — to know how seriously they are taken.

“We try to take all the steps to make sure kids are safe,” Washington said of the Sept. 5, 19, 23, 24 and Oct. 3 bomb threats that caused evacuations at the high school and, in one case, the dismissal of students.

No explosive devices have been found following receipt of the threats, which all were posted in school restrooms.

Washington said the threats, real or not, have become a serious disruption to the educational process.

“It causes heightened tension for students and also for parents,” he said.

Each time a threat is issued, Penn Hills police perform a search of the building targeted.

“Once we get clearance from the authorities we try to get back to a regular school day as soon as possible,” Washington said.

Threats are taken seriously, and the perpetrator could face steep consequences.

“Students don't understand the seriousness of the charges that can be leveled,” Washington said. “We're not just talking about the school code and the local police, but you could be facing federal charges. This can wind up damaging them for a long time.”

In a letter sent home to parents on Sept. 30, Washington said those responsible for the threats would be held in violation of District Policy 218.2 (“Terroristic Threats”) and the Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act, and would face expulsion.

In May, an 18-year-old high-school student in Massachusetts was detained for a month on charges that he communicated terrorist threats. The teen posted a hip-hop video to YouTube in which he alluded to attempting to outdo the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred just a month earlier.

A grand jury chose not to indict him, and he was released from jail.

Washington said regardless of what other charges the perpetrator(s) may face, the district will seek restitution for the all costs and damages related to the threats.

“When we find out who is responsible, not only will they be disciplined, but we'll be going after their parents for the cost of the disruption,” he said.

Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton said detectives interviewed a student suspect in late September.

Burton is out of the office until November, according to his voicemail.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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