PITTSBURGH — Police responded to multiple schools in the Pittsburgh area Wednesday for school shooting hoaxes.
Fake active shooter threats were called in to at least six local schools, and now the FBI is working to find out who was responsible.
There was a massive police response at both Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic high schools in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, but both schools were cleared and declared safe. The schools are closed the rest of the week.
Channel 11 spoke to parents, teachers, police, elected officials and students during and after the chaotic events.
‘Every parents worst nightmare’: Central Catholic parents, students react to hoaxes
11 News spoke with a father when he first arrived to look for his son outside of Central Catholic High School, and we were there when they were finally reunited.
“I received a text from my son that the school was on lockdown and that he was OK, and kids hiding under the tables,” recalled Vernard Alexander.
Like many parents across the area Wednesday, Alexander was scared.
“It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, especially [after] what happened in Nashville,” said Ashley, a parent of a Central Catholic student.
Parents were relieved when they learned it was all a hoax and they really appreciated the large and quick police presence.
“I think it’s great law enforcement took it seriously and showed up in the big force,” Alexander said.
“I mean, no parent should get these type of calls, this is a problem. I thank God that no one got hurt and I’m standing here with my son,” said Tanika, another parent.
Tanika’s son, Donovan, spoke with 11 News Wednesday. He told us what happened while he was in class.
“Our teacher said, ‘Go in the corner, turn off the lights.’ It was kind of crazy, and locked the door with a special lock,” Donovan recalled. “We heard cops running up the stairs.”
11 News spoke with other students, who said this was one of the scariest things they’ve ever experienced, but they felt prepared from all their training.
Central Catholic student uses iPad to update parents from school
Like many schools in the Pittsburgh area, Central Catholic students are not allowed to use their cellphones during the school day. But many parents are thankful their kids did have access to them or found other ways to let them know they were OK.
“He said he heard police shouting that he was on a lockdown,” said Melissa Viator said of her son. “And that’s all he knew.”
And at that point, Viator knew she needed to get to Central Catholic High School.
“That’s all I felt,” said Viator. “Sheer terror, and I just needed to get to my son.”
While parents waited and watched outside, students, such as Andrew Perez, 14, sheltered in place.
“I was walking in between the buildings, and they kind of just told us to go get into the buildings quickly,” said Perez. “So I ended up being in a bathroom, and we kind of just stood there.”
While in the bathroom with several other classmates, he got in touch with his parents.
“I didn’t have my phone on me, but I emailed them through my iPad to let them know I was OK,” said Perez.
And then within minutes, officers confirmed everything was, in fact, OK.
“I kind of felt bad for the police officers that had to come all the way here just for something that wasn’t an active shooter and for something that was just a hoax,” said Perez. “But I guess it’s good practice for us, I guess.”
Oakland Catholic students hid in closets, classrooms once announcement rang out
It started with an announcement over the loudspeaker at Oakland Catholic Wednesday morning.
“Everybody’s on lockdown. You could tell it wasn’t a drill because the voice who said it over the speaker phone was scared,” said freshman, September Rae Haston.
Inside the school, students hunkered down in their classrooms, unsure of what was happening in their halls.
“All I could do was cry, text my mom and since it was happening at Central Catholic, too, I had to text my cousins and everyone I knew there. It just honestly was really traumatizing,” Haston said.
“My physics teacher took control of the situation. He was very relaxed. He put us all on the one side of the classroom so we couldn’t be seen. People were scared, I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s happening,’” said Eve Majewski, a junior.
Those students evacuated to St. Paul’s Cathedral and then were brought back to the school to be released once police confirmed there was no threat of an active shooter.
“Our administrators kicked in immediately with following through with their training, just exemplifying, operating under pressure,” said Michelle Peduto, superintendent of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Peduto told Channel 11 she knows as a parent that the hardest part was being the loved one on the outside waiting to get to their kids.
“Your immediate fear sets in; your kid is somewhere, and you can’t get to your kid. They are traumatized and it’s a parent’s job to protect your child,” said Shatara Murphy. Her daughter is a freshman at the school.
School administration thanked all the first responders who helped and responded. The school will offer counseling services for students and staff.
Hopewell football coach searches for son, teammates as school evacuates
Jonathan Baldwin, a father in the Hopewell School District who is also a football coach, searched for his son and his teammates amidst the chaos.
“Probably about 30 to 40 minutes after, once they kids starting coming out, they all had their hands up — pretty scary sight to see,” said Baldwin. “That’s when state police started informing parents it was a hoax.”
Both the middle and the high school were evacuated after two different 911 calls.
“Just the safety of my child and all the players I coach,” he said “You just want to account for them one by one. Me and another coach were standing there going through our thought process of everybody, if they’re accounted for.”
Law enforcement responds swiftly to calls at multiple schools for active shooter hoax
With these calls targeting a number of schools and communities across the state, Pennsylvania State Police told Channel 11 they are playing a key roll in the ongoing investigations to figure out exactly where these calls came from and why.
Locally, we saw a swift response from law enforcement.
Allegheny County Sheriff Kevin Kraus commended the quick response from local, state, and federal authorities.
Kraus said officers did not know exactly what they’d be facing as they arrived to Central Catholic and then Oakland Catholic, but they relied on their training to assess the situation and develop a plan.
“We were here within minutes,” Kraus said. “Several law enforcement agencies, they arrived within minutes. More came in as time went on. The response, as you can see, was excellent and we’re all very happy that there were no injuries or anything else as a result of this.”
The sheriff, like many others, expressed relief that this was a hoax and gratitude that no one was hurt.
He’s also grateful for all the first responders who helped to ensure everyone’s safety.
The Pittsburgh office of the FBI told Channel 11 they are aware of today’s threats and they take swatting calls very seriously because they put innocent people at risk.
2 Hopewell schools evacuated after multiple 911 calls
It was a traumatizing morning for students, staff and parents in the Hopewell School District as they believed an active shooter was in the school and that six people had been shot.
The SWAT team cleared one classroom of terrified students at a time.
“My friend is sobbing, everyone is sobbing,” said Sarah Shelton, a sophomore.
“At about 10:20 a.m., a call came into the 911 center stating there were six casualties, active shooting event at the Hopewell Senior High School,” said Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier.
Lozier said police and the SWAT team were there within just minutes, but after completely clearing the high school, a second 911 came in.
“Another call came in saying it was the wrong building, that it was at the middle school,” Lozier said. “So then we had police clear the middle school as well. It took us about an hour and half to 100% clear every inch of the buildings.”
The school district decided to have an early dismissal. As parents waited anxiously to be reunited, students finally came pouring out of the school.
11 News saw reunions that were full of tears and heartache. One mother grabbed her middle schooler and carried her away.
“I know no one expects this, but it’s probably been the most terrifying day of my life,” said Amy Kelly, a parent. “It just breaks my heart that so many families had to go through this. I am so glad ours was a hoax, it’s just not right that any parent had to experience this.”
Lozier summarized the ordeal by saying while this was good training for officers, this hoax came at the cost of terrorizing these students.
“Thank God this was a false event, it was training for police,” he said. “But the cost and the impact on these students and teachers, horrible impact on these kids, horrible impact as a parent.”
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