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South Hills Village OK'd for re-entry after threat

| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 7:45 p.m.
Phil Pavely | Tribune-Review
Police respond to a bomb threat at South Hills Village on Sunday night, April 21, 2013.

Bethel Park police evacuated South Hills Village mall and took a man into custody there Sunday night after he made a vague bomb threat, officials said.

The suspect, Frank Zahler, 70, was charged with risking a catastrophe, terroristic threats and threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction. He is awaiting arraignment Monday.

Witnesses said the man with long, gray hair, walked into the Barnes and Noble store about 6:15 p.m. and made reference to having bomb-making materials in his bag, according to a statement released by mall management.

The suspect then walked out of the bookstore and into the mall, eventually taking a seat inside the Red Robin adjacent to the food court, said Bethel Park police Chief John Mackey.

Police were called about the man's statement and responded, taking him into custody at Red Robin and removing his bags from the restaurant to the sidewalk outside the food court. The Allegheny County Bomb Squad was called, and technicians checked the suspect's two duffel bags, a metal briefcase and his car before determining nothing he had posed a threat, Mackey said.

“Just the mention of a bomb or bomb materials this week, it made people nervous and they called police,” he said.

Witness Scott Ross, 36, of Bridgeville said he and his girlfriend were waiting for their food at Red Robin when the man came in, and he immediately struck them as unusual.

“He was struggling to take his sweatshirt off; you know, pulling his T-shirt off with it... then he just sat there, doodling on his napkin or something,” Ross said.

Police officers soon came into the restaurant and quietly took the man into custody, Ross said. A few minutes later, management asked everyone to leave the restaurant via another entrance to the mall, away from the food court.

By 6:30 most of the mall had closed, Mackey said, but employees and customers of the Red Robin, Carmike Cinemas, Target and Barnes and Noble had to wait from the edges of the mall parking lot until the bomb squad finished.

The packages were determined to be safe and people allowed back to their cars shortly after 9 p.m. Mackey said the man was taken into custody by Bethel Park police, who would determine charges later. The man, who Mackey said lived in a neighboring community, had been asked to leave another establishment after acting disorderly this month.

Several suspicious packages around the region have brought responses from the bomb squad this week in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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