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Florida man suspected in hoax threat against Pittsburgh Public Schools

Mary Ann Thomas
| Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, 7:18 a.m.
Authorities say a Florida man was playing the online video game Fortnite when he threatened to shoot up Pittsburgh schools on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018.
Authorities say a Florida man was playing the online video game Fortnite when he threatened to shoot up Pittsburgh schools on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018.

The person suspected of threatening to shoot up Pittsburgh schools Monday is a 21-year-old man from Florida's Broward County, city police said.

Investigators determined the threat was a hoax. The unidentified man, who made the threat while playing a multi-player video game that was posted to YouTube, has not been charged, police said.

“We are happy to bring this to a peaceful resolution,” Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said in a statement.

Pittsburgh Public Schools placed many of its buildings on modified lockdown Monday as a result of the threat.

Students at the affected schools were kept inside their respective buildings, and only visitors with prior appointments were permitted to enter buildings. Police beefed up patrols around the impacted schools.

Some neighboring school districts imposed similar security measures.

City police said WTAE-TV notified authorities Sunday after it received a link to an online video site where the threat was made, according to Public Safety spokeswoman Alicia George.

The district notified employees by email Sunday night and shared a link to the video to see if anyone recognized the voice of the person making the threat or could think of any students who might be motivated to carry out such an attack.

The Florida man was playing the online video game Fortnite when he made the threat, police said.

“I'm shooting up as many (schools) as I can before I get killed by the cops,” the man said during the game, adding that he would start at his own school.

The person tells the other players that he is from Pittsburgh, but doesn't mention any schools by name.

Florida officials interviewed the man Monday morning. Pittsburgh police said investigators would decide whether to file charges after conferring with the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and U.S. Attorney's Office.

Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the modified lockdown was put in place at “all high schools, 6-12s, middle and K-8 schools, as well as early childhood and Early Head Start classrooms or schools sharing a building or campus.”

The district said 35 schools and 18,503 families were affected. A phone message was sent to families with students who attend the impacted schools.

Some surrounding districts also heightened security.

Baldwin-Whitehall School District Superintendent Randal Lutz said his district took additional precautions because of the district's close proximity to the city. Among them, all visitors to district schools were required to have appointments anticipated by school office staff; only deliveries from regular district vendors were accepted; outside recess at the elementary schools was moved indoors, as were outside classes such as physical education.

North Allegheny School District also beefed up patrols at its school buildings, and activities normally held outside such as recess were moved inside.

Suzanne Elliott contributed. Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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