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Constant threats disturb Pitt campus

The Cathedral of Learning is a common target of the bomb threats, which have prompted federal law enforcement to begin investigating. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Photo Editor) The Cathedral of Learning is a common target of the bomb threats, which have prompted federal law enforcement to begin investigating. (credit: Jonathan Carreon/Photo Editor)

The University of Pittsburgh has been the target of over 20 bomb threats since mid-February, the majority of which have been made in the past few weeks.

The series of threats began on Feb. 13 when a threat was made against the Chevron Science Center, where Pitt’s chemistry department is located. Since then, simultaneous threats have been made against locations on the Pitt campus, including dorm buildings. In addition, a threat has been made against Point Park University.

After the first threat, another bomb threat was leveled against the Cathedral of Learning on March 14. The Cathedral houses multiple Pitt classrooms and has over 42 floors.

From that point on, the threats against Pitt have become more frequent. Threats have been placed against the Cathedral of Learning and the Chevron Science Center on multiple occasions. Other targeted buildings include David Lawrence Hall, Posvar Hall, Litchfield Towers, the Music Building, the Frick Fine Arts Building, and Victoria Hall.

The threats have differed in their delivery. Some were written in Pitt bathrooms, while others were emailed in via reporters.

One of the threats against Litchfield Towers was made at 2 a.m., forcing a nighttime evacuation of students from their dormitories.

The Pitt Police Department released a statement offering a reward of $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the threats. “Pitt is stating its appeal to the public to assist the University of Pittsburgh Police and FBI with their investigation,” the department said in the message.

The constant threats and disruptions have taken a toll on the Pitt community. Assistant linguistics professor David Mortensen told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Please stop or I will find you.... It’s not fun anymore. You can’t plan anything anymore. You get kind of concerned — because what if something does happen?”

Pitt chemistry Ph.D. student Marshall McGoff said, “People get desensitized to it, because you get these text messages. It got to the point two days ago, where people were like, ‘Oh, there’ll probably be a bomb threat at 10 o’clock.’ People were almost joking about it. But then, the last few days, someone put in a threat for three or four buildings at once. So it wasn’t just one building, it was multiple buildings.... If they don’t catch them soon, people are just going to stop going to class. It’s very unsettling to be a Pitt student right now.”

McGoff also spoke to the effect the threats have had on his studies.

“The other day I was growing up cultures for protein purification, and it’s a very strict timeline,” McGoff said. “If you miss that window, you have to start over the next day. There was a bomb threat at 10, and I was just in the window to continue my work. There’s been days where there’s a bomb threat, and okay, I can’t do any work today, because what I needed to get done, I need to get done now.”

On Sunday, Pitt police announced several new security measures, adding to the inconvenience. Under the new measures, bags will not be allowed into buildings, everyone entering a building will be required to show a Pitt ID, and non-Pitt students will not be allowed in residence halls.

“I know the general concensus among everyone is that it’s a really big pain, because it’s not easy to carry all your books from class to class, but I guess it’s necessary if these threats continue,” said first-year chemistry major Tim Kaniecki. “I don’t think [the measures] will cut down on the threats, but they’ll cut down at least on the time it takes to deal with the threats.”

Pitt Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Robert Hill told Essential Public Radio that the university takes the threats and their effects — including the emotional toll — seriously. “We have included in our notifications information about counseling services available to members of the University community, especially students who would like to receive guidance counseling during these stressful times,” Hill said in the interview.