Pittsburgh Public evacuates 3 schools after voicemail threat
Someone made two threatening phone messages in two days to South Hills public schools, but only the second resulted in evacuations and a visit from federal agents.
“The calls that were made yesterday did not indicate any imminent threat to your students. It wasn't until this morning that (the Brookline campus) was identified as a target for potential danger,” interim Pittsburgh police Chief Cameron McLay told more than 100 parents who gathered in the South Brook middle school on Wednesday night.
Pittsburgh Public Schools sent students from its West Liberty K-5 and South Brook 6-8 schools to another school when a voicemail left at one school raised alarms shortly before school began.
Special needs students in the Pioneer school were taken home or sheltered in nearby Resurrection Church until their parents could pick them up, spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said. Pioneer is a special education facility serving about 50 students.
West Liberty, South Brook and Pioneer schools share a campus in Brookline.
Investigators and zone officers worked in tandem with some federal agencies, McLay said. He wouldn't say which federal agencies.
There will be an increased police presence at all three schools on Thursday.
Students' outside activities are canceled indefinitely. When applicable, practices will occur indoors.
Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane apologized to parents who received short or delayed robotic warning messages.
West Liberty staff members heard the voicemail at 8:30 a.m., as 300 children were en route to school, Lane said.
District officials rerouted buses from West Liberty and South Brook, which serves about 470 kids, to nearby Brashear High School.
“I didn't feel we had a strong enough security plan in place (Wednesday) to continue as planned,” Lane said.
“Typically, evacuation means we don't have water, we don't have power. We had a unique situation here. We needed a place with adequate parking and space. In this case, Brashear was our best option.”
Some parents complained about waiting an hour or more to pick up their children from Brashear.
South Brook seventh-grader John Siebrich, 12, of Carrick called his mother from a friend's cellphone on the way to Brashear.
“He was just hysterical,” said Angel Siebrich, 37. “If the teachers got the message that early in the morning, they should have called us way before kids were let on the bus.”
Nearly all of South Brook's students were picked up or transported home by 1 p.m.
The incident displaced about 800 students, plus faculty and staff.
Lane said that if a call comes in for a third day, the students will stay in school as scheduled.
She also said “you won't notice a significant change” under the more stringent security.
“If you think about it, schools are always in a modified lockdown,” she said. “People can never just come in and out.”
Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.