Campus reopens as Pitt police report ‘critical incident’ at Central Catholic is ‘unfounded’

By Alexandra Ross and Rebecca Johnson

This story was updated.

Pitt police reopened campus and have determined that a “critical incident” at Central Catholic High School is “unfounded.” Police locked down campus for about half an hour Wednesday morning, telling people to avoid the area.

Pittsburgh Public Safety said Central and Oakland Catholic Schools “have been cleared and declared to be safe,” and that students are returning to their home rooms so administrators can account for everyone. They said there is no evidence of an active shooter, but police will remain in place to ensure their safety. 

According to KDKA, state police are investigating reports of active shooter threats in schools throughout the state that are believed to be “computer generated swatting calls.” Acting Police Chief Thomas Stangrecki said at a news conference that Pittsburgh Police will work with the FBI and state police to identify the source of the fake call and identify the people responsible for the call.

Ted Fritz, vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management, said Pitt and City Police responded to the incident, which they are now aware was “part of a malicious hoax involving false reports of active shooters being made to multiple schools across the region.”

He encouraged people to reach out to Pitt’s Counseling Center and Life Solutions, if they need help dealing with fear and stress. He said Pitt will continue to monitor the situation.

“We are grateful that this ultimately proved to be a false alarm and that all students and staff in the affected schools are safe,” Fritz said. “We are also grateful to all the first responders who rushed to the scene to ensure the safety of those inside.”

Mayor Ed Gainey also said at the conference that he’s “thankful that nothing major happened.”

“We heard the hoax was going on all throughout America,” he said. “Our greatest asset is our children. We got to keep them safe, and we have to work together to ensure that that happens.”

Students reported sheltering in place in Thackeray Hall, Hillman Library and Towers dorms, University buildings close to the school. Carnegie Mellon University also told students to avoid the area, but said on-campus activities could resume after local officials indicated there is no ongoing threat. 

Valeria Silva, a junior Spanish and psychology major, was in the Cathedral of Learning during the lockdown. 

“People started kind of freaking out,” Silva said. “Everyone was kind of, I think in shock a little bit, because nobody knew what was going on.”

While the University did not cancel classes for the remainder of the day, Dean of Students Carla Panzella encouraged students to “make the best decision for yourself today about how to take care of yourself.”

“That may mean resuming your daily routine, or it may mean taking some time to decompress,” she said.

Parents lined up outside Central Catholic to pick up their children from the school after receiving the all-clear. 

Allen Greene, who has a child in 12th grade at Central Catholic, went to St. Paul’s Cathedral with his wife Tara Greene after hearing about a possible active shooter situation. Pittsburgh Public Safety originally told students and parents to gather at this location.

He described the scene as “total chaos” and said his feelings are mixed because he’s heard about the computer swatting calls.  

“So just waiting, waiting. Little anxious, little emotional. You see it on TV. It’s different when it’s you,” he said. “The waiting is harder because you know they’re ok, but you just want to see them.”