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Westmoreland

Greensburg Salem, area school districts struggle with rumors and threats

Jacob Tierney
| Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, 3:45 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Two rumored threats against Greensburg Salem School District proved unfounded, according to Greensburg City Police.

Police investigated the rumors over the weekend as school districts across the region grappled with threats and fears of violence that have been widespread since last week's school shooting in Florida that killed 17.

“There are just so many rumors out there, and not just involving us, but involving all school districts, that it's hard to keep ahead of them,” said Eileen Amato, Superintendent of Greensburg Salem Schools.

One rumor involved a video made last month by a 19-year-old man who no longer attends Greensburg Salem, according to police.

The man was building a model car and live-streaming the process on YouTube. During an exchange with people commenting, the man showed a gun on the video, police said.

The school district was not involved in any way, but over the weekend someone discovered the video, which had been saved to YouTube, and showed it to police, believing it might constitute a threat against the school.

Police interviewed the man who made the video. The weapon he'd shown was a BB gun, which police confiscated, but there was no threat to the district and charges likely will not be filed, police said. The video was deleted.

In a second, unrelated incident, social media rumors spread about a Greensburg Salem student verbally threatening to shoot up the school.

Police interviewed the student and his father. The student denies making any threat, and there were no weapons at his home.

“There were some social media posts about a student at Greensburg Salem, and it was rumors, and unfounded,” Greensburg Police Capt. Robert Stafford said.

Amato said she believes rumors of violence have increased because of last week's school shooting in Florida and the Snapchat post that shut down Franklin Regional School District Friday.

A Franklin Regional student posted in image of a hand holding a gun on the popular image-sharing social media app with the caption “It's almost time,” prompting administrators to cancel all classes.

Districts across the region have dealt with similar issues.

At Mt. Lebanon School District, a middle schooler made a comment about wanting to shoot up the school, prompting a police investigation, said Cissy Bowman, director of communications for the district.

Bowman said she's disheartened that the shooting in Florida seems to have led to an uptick in violent comments and social media posts.

“It was such a horrific, tragic event. I don't know why people respond the way they do. We take these things seriously,” she said.

Among the numerous other threats in the region:

• On Friday, Monroeville police arrested a Gateway High School student after he posted an alleged “terroristic threat” on Snapchat, a popular image-sharing social media app. Officials said the message referenced the Florida shooting but gave no details.

• A South Fayette man was arrested after threatening on Facebook to “shoot up” several Butler public schools. Bryan Paul Flecken, 28, told police he was joking.

• An 18-year-old Blairsville High School student was removed from school after making “inappropriate comments” about the Florida shooting, administrators said.

• On Wednesday, South Park High School in Pittsburgh's South Hills increased its police presence after discovering a possible threat a student made on Snapchat. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Wayne P. Gdovic said police believe the threat wasn't credible but that the incident was still being investigated.

• A 17-year-old student at Shade High School in Somerset County was arrested after allegedly threatening to “shoot up the school and the people in it.”

• Central Greene School District in Greene County plans to have police at the school Tuesday after a social-media threat was discovered.

• Canon-McMillan School District in Washington County informed parents that there was “no reason for concern” after a discussion between students on Snapchat led to rumors that it would be unsafe to attend school.

• Bethlehem-Center School District in Washington County stepped up security Monday after a discussion between middle-school students led officials to investigate rumors of violence, according to the district.

With the swiftness that threats and rumors have been spreading, it's been difficult to determine fact and fiction, and to separate actual threats of violence from unfounded posturing, but those in the Greensburg Salem community should continue to report potential threats, Amato said.

“Continue to call the office and call them in. Each one will be taken seriously, and investigated thoroughly,” she said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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