Man in custody after South Hills Village Mall bomb threat identified

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A Castle Shannon man was arrested Sunday night and charged with terroristic threats after police said he told two people at South Hills Village that he had bomb-making materials inside his briefcase, prompting the mall's evacuation.

Bethel Park police said Frank J. Zahler, 70, asked two people he was talking with at the Barnes and Noble to watch his briefcase, saying he had "Bomb making material from the Boston Marathon Bombing inside," Officer James Linz wrote in a criminal complaint.

Alarmed, the pair told the man that wasn't funny, notified the store's cashier and manager and called police about 6:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zahler walked to the mall food court with the briefcase and a duffel bag. He was removed from the food court for "erratic behavior" and next went to Red Robin, where police found him in a booth drinking a cup of coffee, Officer Linz wrote.

Bethel Park police evacuated the mall, the bookstore, Red Robin and Carmike Cinemas.

"This task took an enormous amount of law enforcement and fire department personnel to make the area safe and out of harms way," Officer Linz wrote in the complaint.

Mr. Zahler has also been charged with risking a catastrophe and a threat to use weapons of mass destruction, both felonies.

In an interview with police, Mr. Zahler "openly admitted to saying" he had the bomb material inside the briefcase and said he told the two people that because "he wanted to make sure they were paying attention to his comments," according to the complaint.

The Allegheny County bomb squad investigated the contents of the briefcase and duffel bag, Officer Linz wrote, and "determined that the items were safe to remove and secure."

"South Hills Village has worked with all the appropriate authorities to eliminate the crisis situation this evening that caused us to evacuate the mall," mall manager Linda Accettulla wrote in a statement Sunday night. "The local authorities have confirmed that there is no longer a threat, and the mall is now safe for our customers, tenants and employees."

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Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 and on Twitter: @borntolede. First Published April 21, 2013 8:15 PM


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