Pitt leader urges vigilance, calm to foil bomb threats

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The hoax bomb threats that have unsettled students and emptied buildings -- sometimes in the middle of the night -- on the University of Pittsburgh campus for the past three weeks continued unabated Tuesday and drew a reprimand from the chancellor.

Several emails to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters warning of bombs at the Cathedral of Learning and elsewhere began around 2 a.m. and kept up throughout the day.

Two threats Tuesday around 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. warned of a bomb in the Litchfield Towers dormitory, prompting authorities to clear the three buildings.

At 10:05 a.m., an automatic alert went out from Pitt about a "general bomb threat" at the school's Chevron Science Center on Parkman Avenue.

And two other threats came in during the late afternoon claiming that there was a bomb in the Cathedral of Learning.

Even as authorities were dealing with the morning disruptions, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg issued a statement echoing the frustration on campus that police have been unable to quickly end the disruptive scares that have sown chaos on campus.

"The inability to bring this succession of threats to a quick end obviously is a source of frustration for everyone whose life has been disrupted by them. But I can assure you that law enforcement professionals are doing everything they can to pursue all possible leads," Mr. Nordenberg said in a statement posted on the school's website.

Mr. Nordenberg raised the specter of the March 8 shootings at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, in which John Shick shot six people, one fatally, before being killed by police, and called those responsible for the bomb threats "heartless."

"Particularly given last month's shootings at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and recent reminders of violence on other campuses, those responsible for these threats not only lack basic respect for the thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by them but must possess a heartless streak," Mr. Nordenberg said.

No explosives have been found at any of the locations that have been threatened.

Mr. Nordenberg sought to reassure the university community that police are doing all they can.

"Even without the motivation that might be provided by a reward, I ask all members of the university community to be especially attentive to any unusual activity and to share any relevant information with the University of Pittsburgh Police," Mr. Nordenberg said.

Pitt officials are offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible. They could not remember a time when the university had offered such a reward before.

Pitt police have enlisted the help of the FBI and handwriting experts while trying to solve the case. They have said that they intend to prosecute anyone connected to the threats to the "fullest extent possible" under federal and state laws.

Anyone with information can contact university police at 412-624-2121 or police@pitt.edu.

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Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962. First Published April 4, 2012 3:45 PM


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