Suspicious package leads to dorm evacuation


More than 200 students were evacuated from two Pitt dormitories for about three hours Wednesday night after a suspicious package was reported at a nearby store. 

According to Pitt Police Chief Tim Delaney, an employee at the UPS store at 3945 Forbes Ave. dialed 911 at 6:40 p.m. to alert the Pitt and city police departments about a suspicious package that had been dropped off in the store. Police located a CMU student who had been trying to send the package as part of a larger shipment to California. After speaking with the student and examining the package, police determined that none of its contents were dangerous. 

Delaney said that he cleared Bruce and Brackenridge halls after receiving the call as a precaution because of the two dormitories’ proximity to the store.

Pitt’s Emergency Notification Service, which provides emergency alerts via phone call, text message and email, alerted students of the situation at 7:30 p.m., indicating that the 3900 block of Forbes Avenue would close until police cleared the scene. Students were permitted to re-enter the dormitories around 9:35 p.m. after it was determined that the package did not contain an explosive device.

Ken Service, Pitt’s vice chancellor for communications, said only about 17 students were evacuated from Bruce Hall — it houses few residents this year due to an ongoing renovation process to the building — and about 200 students were evacuated from Brackenridge Hall.

Because Pitt and city police could not immediately identify the nature of the contents of the package, which included papers, a powder substance and wires, the bomb squad and city Hazardous Materials Unit were called. Delaney said that the FBI was also called to the scene because the package was being mailed out of the state.

The police located the student mailing the package and brought him back to the scene, where he explained the contents of the box to the bomb squad and FBI. The student’s name was not released because “he did not do anything wrong,” according to Pittsburgh Police Zone 6 Commander Scott Schubert. 

“There was nothing of concern,” Schubert said. 

Forbes Avenue was closed from Bouquet Street to Bigelow Boulevard. Schubert said the distance cleared around a threat, along with evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures, is determined by the bomb squad’s analysis of the location of a particular threat. 

Police redirected students around the scene, and the ENS alert directed evacuated students to the William Pitt Union.

Matthew Jones, a sophomore living in Brackenridge Hall, evacuated the building when the fire alarms sounded. He said that since there were fire drills earlier in the week, many of his friends took their time exiting the building until they received ENS phone-call alerts. 

“Many of us weren’t sure if it was real or not, so I took my time getting ready because I didn’t see any officials around,” he said. 

Andrea Groves, also a sophomore living in Brackenridge Hall, found out about the suspicious package through a friend’s emergency notification. She is not signed up for the service. 

Groves expressed frustration with the lack of information given to students and said that students need more communication from the University in situations that ENS alerts are used.

“Even though they notify us, they don’t keep us updated on what they are finding out,” she said. “They should send messages to people’s Pitt email, because they know we all have them.”

Service said people on the scene were focused on “trying to get the situation resolved” and therefore did not have the time to provide additional updates to students through the Emergency Notification System.