Fearful Pitt students move off campus

Bomb threats bring call for online classes

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As the number and frequency of bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh campus escalated this week, students have become increasingly nervous about their safety and frustrated with authorities' inability to identify the source of the threats.

Some students left the Oakland campus Wednesday evening after two sets of triple bomb threats came in -- the first about 5:30 p.m., the second around 9:15 p.m. Those threats were followed Thursday morning by a threat at the Chevron Building, which upon reopening had access restricted to one entrance, with a Pitt ID required to enter.

Freshman Hannah Bitzer, who lives in a Pitt residence hall that has not experienced a bomb threat, returned to her home in Fox Chapel after the first triple threat Wednesday.

"That's when I called my mom and said 'please come and pick me up because I no longer feel safe on campus,' " Ms. Bitzer said.

"[The Tower C dorm] was threatened again, and I just didn't really feel comfortable."

Ms. Bitzer said her dorm is close to the Tower dormitories and that she had trouble sleeping after the evacuation of Tower B at 4 a.m. Tuesday. Tower C was among the buildings targeted Wednesday.

"I know I still have to go to class and take my tests, but my plan right now is that I am going to commute," Ms. Bitzer said.

Ms. Bitzer and Lexi Howell, who live in the same residence hall, said the majority of the approximately 40 students on their floor left after Wednesday's triple threats.

The women said a number of students who have apartments near campus or whose parents live within commuting distance of Pitt have opened their apartments and homes to students who are afraid to stay in the dorms. Ms. Bitzer said a student in her English class invited the entire class of 19 students to sleep at his apartment if they were fearful of staying in their dorm rooms.

Ms. Howell, of Philadelphia, said her boyfriend was scheduled to visit her at Pitt this weekend, but instead she left campus Thursday morning and took a bus to West Virginia University, where he attends.

The previous night she spent at the apartment of a friend's sister. "There were seven of us there, but everybody was nice about it. We just felt safer getting away from the Towers," she said. "So many people I know are going to North and South Oakland and staying in houses. So many people are so nice about it."

She said on Wednesday night, the Schenley Quadrangle, which includes several residence halls, was filled with students holding pillows, blankets and backpacks who were heading elsewhere to sleep.

For Roman Perdziola, a freshman engineering major from Bethel Park, concern about the bomb threats heightened when he was evacuated from his dorm room in Tower B at 4 a.m. Tuesday. "When we evacuated the Towers it was like 'OK, maybe this is going to get serious.' Before it was just the Cathedral or other buildings, but when they came after a big chunk of the students, that was unnerving," Mr. Perdziola said.

He spent Wednesday night in a friend's apartment but left the campus Thursday night after the second set of triple bomb threats.

"The first couple of times it was like, 'Ha-ha-ha.' But as it got worse you could look at people and see they didn't think it was funny anymore," he said.

The students also said the threats were a constant distraction to their studies. "You are sitting there trying to study, but you have a bunch of scenarios running through your head. What's this guy thinking? What's he going to do next? It's really hard to concentrate," Mr. Perdziola said.

Some students are circulating a petition on Facebook asking students to support a request for Pitt to close the campus "until it is safe again."

"If you feel that this bomb threat situation has escalated to a point where you do not feel safe on Pitt's campus and do not think that finishing the semester is worth risking your life over, sign this petition and pass it on to your classmates," the petition read.

Also online is a "Stop the Pitt bomb threats" blog that chronicles details, dates, times of each threat and hosts a discussion aimed at figuring out who the culprit or culprits may be.

Ms. Howell said she understands why Pitt is not canceling classes. "I feel really bad for the university. I feel like it's hard to even make a decision like that."

She and other students would like the university to consider holding the remaining two weeks of class online and offering finals in the same manner.

University spokesman Robert Hill said the academic affairs side of the university is "grappling with" how to conduct classes in the remaining weeks amid student fears and possible future bomb threats and that an announcement on the issue will be made in the future.

In the meantime, Mr. Hill said, professors have scheduled makeup classes for Saturdays and held classes on lawns outside of buildings. "We are trying to manage during this time of stress and disturbance," Mr. Hill said.

Also, he said, the university is "working on all cylinders trying the catch the person or persons responsible."

education - neigh_city

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com: 412-851-1512. First Published April 6, 2012 11:15 AM


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