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"Refusing to allow such threats to paralyze the entire university community in its pursuit of learning and teaching,"
April 9, 2012 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Starting on February 13th The University of Pittsburgh has received a steady stream of bomb threats. The Chancellor of the University has stated that the school has no intention of ending its semester early even though the threats show no sign of stopping and the authorities have been unable to find any leads after finding that some of the threats were routed through systems in Austria. The school's Vice Chancellor wrote this letter to students and faculty in response to the ongoing situation.
posted by sendai sleep master (101 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was wondering when this would show up on MeFi. There's a very active thread on Something Awful about it right now, including lots of participation from Pitt students.

I understand that after mass objection to the blanket ban on bookbags (coming from commuters and other students who actually have to, you know, carry lots of books) the administration backtracked. Bags are permitted, but are being searched at building entrances.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:27 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Usually when there's a bomb threat, it's pretty obvious what agenda the bomber is pushing. Any idea what's going on in this case?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:29 PM on April 9, 2012


Thanks for the post. There were bomb threats over the Easter weekend, and even threats in early morning hours, forcing evacuations of dorms. I'm hoping for the best for my friends and colleagues down the street.
posted by jasonhong at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2012


Definitely must be a nightmare for everyone who has to deal with this, including the administration. Must be infuriating to know that this is probably just something that someone is doing for their own amusement, to make other people afraid and watch them jump through hoops, yet to have to keep jumping anyway on the chance that the threat is serious. The administration's response thus far seems reasonable enough, including their decision not to allow bookbags and their subsequent backtracking once people made it clear that this would be too much of a burden. Good luck, U Pitt.
posted by Scientist at 1:32 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I actually hesitated before posting this because "experts" have suggested that outside of the very real possibility of someone intending to do actual harm there is always the possibility that exposure itself is the goal (I used quotes around "experts" because the CMU professor quoted is not actually commenting on the threat-makers profile, regardless of what the headline says). Ultimately I figured it had already reached CNN so it was probably better to post than not post. I'm from the Burgh but am currently hundreds of miles elsewhere. I wish everyone there absolute safety and hope this all passes as soon as possible.
posted by sendai sleep master at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Considering that the shootings at Western Psych (which is next to Pitt, and actually owned by Pitt) happened a month ago, the campus is a pretty scary place to be right now.
posted by UrbanEye at 1:38 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a nightmare scenario for the Pitt administration if this guy isn't caught. I just can't imagine any number of fake threats where you could plausibly stop responding to them, lest that be the one that turns out to be real. I don't know how you break the cycle of endlessly dancing to this guy's tune, which I'm sure is exactly what he wants.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:40 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Usually when there's a bomb threat, it's pretty obvious what agenda the bomber is pushing. Any idea what's going on in this case?

Honestly, when there's a bomb threat on a high school or college campus, it usually means that one of the students is stressed out and overwhelmed and wants to force them to cancel a class or postpone a test or something. Like pulling the fire alarm, only you don't leave fingerprints and it takes longer for them to get classes back on schedule.

At this point, that's obviously no longer what's going on here. But I'm not totally shocked that there's no political message. It still seems more like an idiotic prank that's been taken way too far, and less like full-on Terrorism.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:46 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, let me get this straight, this 30 thousand student and 2 billion dollar a year university is paralyzed to the point where they are considering shutting down, even temporarily, over bathroom stall scrawlings and emails? The appropriate time to habituate to this 'threat' was months ago. Really though, the university is refusing to use the power that it really does have in this situation, to ignore it.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:47 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's pretty frightening. My wife is a grad student and teaches on campus. Initially, it just seemed like a joke but the escalation over the last few weeks is extremely worrying.

It definitely seems like the perpetrator is listening to the dozens of theories bouncing around Facebook and blogs. As soon as patterns started to emerge, the individual(s) started changing the buildings or days for the threats.

All of my friends are grad students at Pitt - it's extremely worrisome.
posted by glaucon at 1:47 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone notice the guy started by writing em' on bathroom walls? We aren't talking another Unabomber here, he'll be sloppy and get caught, probably before this thread closes given the frequency.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:52 PM on April 9, 2012


The university has asked that witnesses share any information about the bomb threats. It is also offering a $50,000 reward if that information leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

You'd think that saving the school from potentially exploding would at least get you a full scholarship.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on April 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


The first few were written in women's restrooms.
posted by glaucon at 1:56 PM on April 9, 2012


I'm defending my dissertation at Pitt on Friday. I put a tongue-in-cheek note on facebook about having an off-campus back-up location, only to have numerous friends comment that this was seriously a good idea.

So I just got off the phone from taking care of that. Hooray.
posted by daisystomper at 1:57 PM on April 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


Blasdelb--With that cavalier and dismissive attitude I wonder if you have ever had the singular responsibility for making administrative or executive decisions that involves a number of people who depend on your leadership.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:57 PM on April 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


The UPitt administration can't ignore this for many reasons, including the fact that several anonymous bomb threats were called in a few days before the VT massacre. Of course there is the possibility that those bomb threats did not come from Cho, but UPitt literally can not bet that this isn't the work of a local person who is having an extended breakdown which could end violently.
posted by muddgirl at 2:01 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, is there any question about whether Cho called in those bomb threats? It doesn't really look like it.
posted by muddgirl at 2:04 PM on April 9, 2012


What's also frustrating is that the Dept of Homeland Security is working on this. The US has spent over a trillion dollars on this organization and they can't trace the threatening emails.

How does that make sense?
posted by glaucon at 2:08 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


"How does that make sense"--because we have supported a culture and technologies that values privacy and anonymity as much as transparency and accountability. Simple answer to a very serious and troubling question.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:15 PM on April 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, at least some of the communication has been routed through servers located outside the United States, which makes tracing much trickier from a legal standpoint.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:17 PM on April 9, 2012


So, let me get this straight, this 30 thousand student and 2 billion dollar a year university is paralyzed to the point where they are considering shutting down, even temporarily, over bathroom stall scrawlings and emails? The appropriate time to habituate to this 'threat' was months ago. Really though, the university is refusing to use the power that it really does have in this situation, to ignore it.

This is a fascinating micro-version of the USA and terrorism, isn't it?
posted by jacalata at 2:18 PM on April 9, 2012 [13 favorites]


How does that make sense?

Because their authority isn't absolute across the world? DOHS' budget doesn't motivate third world email providers to give up their info because they say so.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 2:19 PM on April 9, 2012


I guess I just see the inability of the feckless Dept of HS to track these in a knee jerk way - as clear, immediate proof that it's a wasteful and useless organization.
posted by glaucon at 2:21 PM on April 9, 2012


How does that make sense?

Big Brother is watching is a phrase that, paradoxically, is somehow scarier when it is paired with the knowledge that he isn't able to see the stuff you would actually like him to see. Heck of world we live in.
posted by sendai sleep master at 2:22 PM on April 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


Also, at least some of the communication has been routed through servers located outside the United States, which makes tracing much trickier from a legal standpoint.

Also trickier from a practical standpoint. If they're using a properly set-up anonymous remailer, then there won't be any records that connect the message to its original sender. Even if you had legal authority over the people running the remailer, and could go through all there records and files, you wouldn't learn anything.

DHS is a wasteful organization, and they spend a lot of their effort on useless security theater. (Though they've also taken over a lot of practical shit from other branches of the government. They do anti-counterfeiting work, for instance. That's not totally useless.) But in this particular case, their failure to catch the guy is probably not their fault.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:24 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Err, sorry, I mean "it makes it trickier to trace because it's been routed through [an anonymous remailer]," not "it makes it trickier to trace because that remailer is outside the country."
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:25 PM on April 9, 2012


What's also frustrating is that the Dept of Homeland Security is working on this. The US has spent over a trillion dollars on this organization and they can't trace the threatening emails.

How does that make sense?


Well, if it's any consolation, they are able to tell if a woman attempting to board an aircraft has had a mastectomy. So, you know, at least we're keeping tabs on them.
posted by indubitable at 2:28 PM on April 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


I just learned about this from some Pitt alum friends last week; what a scary and hard situation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:31 PM on April 9, 2012


Wow, I haven't really been paying attention to this. I heard about a bomb threat to the Cathedral of Learning a week or so ago but didn't realize that this was an on-going thing. It really sucks coming right after the Western Psych incident (which was UPMC not Pitt but they're right next door).
posted by octothorpe at 2:51 PM on April 9, 2012


Clearly they need to enact a policy of only accepting threats via phone, snail mail, or in person. Threats via email will no longer be acceptable.
posted by Big_B at 2:53 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I had wanted to jump in to this earlier but as I was re-reading my post, my little brother called. He's an undergrad at Pitt, and I'm a grad student who lives close by. Over this past weekend we had discussed where I'll pick him up the next time his dorm is evacuated, and what we'll do if anything serious happens. (This is not a fun conversation to have with your little brother.) I'd given him the key to my apartment, just in case.

Anyway, he called as I was going to post, asking if I could come pick him and a couple of friends up, and if they could stay at my apartment for the next few days. These are reasonable kids, smart kids, and they're anxious and tired and frustrated. I am, too, and I don't even live on campus. It's very frustrating for them to see their life and education disrupted by what very well be someone's stupid idea of a joke.

Everyone's worried. There's the idea of an actual bomb going off; there are concerns about the effect this is having on the kids, the classes, the prospective students. I'm worried about one of the students getting hit with a car during an evacuation; I was in front of Cathedral during one last week, and it was pandemonium. I couldn't help but think the people streaming out of the building were incredibly vulnerable.

To those who are saying that the school needs to stop responding to the threats: I get where you're coming from, and I've heard students and professors say as much. I think that the school wil keep responding as they have, and I hope they do. A friend made the analogy of having a guy stand next to you and to pretend to punch you in the face (I know, I know. Eponysterical.) You're going to flinch every time, even if you're 100% sure that he's not actually going to hit you.
posted by punchtothehead at 3:02 PM on April 9, 2012 [30 favorites]


The prelude to the Virginia Tech shooting was much like this. You better bet that every college administrator facing this kind of situation is going to tread very lightly.
posted by Candleman at 3:05 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is this possibly a laughing man style conspiracy, ie one where say, an initial threat (say a stressed female student scrawling in the bathroom) caught the attention of a copycat and there's more than one person not working in a co-operative fashion?
posted by Phalene at 3:20 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Phalene - yeah, definitely. I was going to post all the rumors I've heard, but thought it wouldn't contribute much. The most prevalent one is that the person who wrote the threat(s) in the bathrooms and the person emailing the threats are different people, and the first person has been caught.
posted by punchtothehead at 3:30 PM on April 9, 2012


When I started working at a community college (ca. 2000), I was given instructions on how to handle bomb threats on the phone (all the staff phones had "cheat sheets" by them), because apparently there'd been a spate of them not long before. There weren't any while I worked there; the theory among most of the staff I knew was the bored/stressed student who wanted to get out of class, which seemed to be the most frequent cause of fire alarms as well. Hopefully it will turn out to be something along those lines!
posted by epersonae at 3:36 PM on April 9, 2012


The prelude to the Virginia Tech shooting was much like this.

I'm a grad student at Pitt, and this is what has myself and most of my undergrad students worried. I was there for the first bomb threat (in the Chemistry building), and was the one that had to tell my students what was going on. It was surreal to be the one in charge of keeping calm when standing in a building with 14 floors of explosive, carcinogenic, and highly flammable materials. Since then, there have been 56 (I think?) other bomb threats around campus.

Although the original bomb threats were scrawled on bathroom walls, the most recent ones are much more frequent and sophisticated - using electronic messages routed through Austria and presumably untraceable phone calls. At first many people (myself included) thought the threats were just the coming from students who wanted to get out of an exam or two. But it has escalated beyond annoyance and into the "this can only end poorly" domain. Just last night, some of my students were evacuated from their dorms at 3 in the morning, and not allowed to return until after 6:30 AM. For them, it's not just a fear of some nebulous dreadful thing happening on campus - it has made even their "homes" feel insecure. Just today, several dorms, the fine arts building, the social sciences building, the nursing building, a restaurant/banquet center, the student center, and a chapel were the targets. What tomorrow?

I'm not exactly sure what more the University can be doing to solve the problem - they have been keeping students up to date with each new threat, have been relaying messages from the Dean and the Department of Justice, and have emphasized that, "Any student who feels that leaving campus before the end of the academic term is the best alternative can make that decision, and we will do our best to facilitate the completion of his or her remaining academic responsibilities." But you better believe that kids are looking to nearby roofs and windows every time they evacuate these buildings. The media paranoia isn't helping, nor the endless Virginia Tech references.

To add to the list of relevant sites: Stop the Pitt Bomb Threats is a blog that has kept pretty up-to-date with the threats, and is one of several such sites that maps out and analyzes each incident.
posted by genekelly'srollerskates at 3:52 PM on April 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh dear. And I was sitting at the back near the Tower of Learning, in the tech transfer office when the potential for the plane that ended up in Somerset county was high. We were sent home then.

This sounds so weird for Pitt. (I'm an alum)

Now what?
posted by infini at 4:12 PM on April 9, 2012


Sorry to hear it! Hope they find the perpetrators soon.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:16 PM on April 9, 2012


Oof. Hope they catch this prick.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:24 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the most frustrating aspects of managing any large-scale organization is the degree to which you are, by definition, subject to the random and unforeseeable actions of completely unknown entities. There is nothing that Pitt administration types can do but try to hopefully not make things worse - and they have to try and do that when they really don't know a tenth of what they need to, to do it effectively. A very small target is hard to terrorize over the long-term like this: with all these buildings, students, staff members, open acreage, etc., you could conceivably drag this on for years. It all comes down to stamina, good luck, and self-discipline on the part of whoever is responsible.

We should all just be glad this wasn't directed at the big organizations we ourselves interact with every day. And hope this is a conspiracy of a half dozen kids who've let the "fun" get out of hand - the more people involved, and the less serious the intentions, the more likely one will slip up in a way that implicates themselves or someone else.

(I have our bomb threat response list in my desk drawer, and mostly memorized. And I'm one of the folks responsible for making sure evacuations happen in an orderly fashion. I'm very serious about that "be glad this wasn't directed at us" thing.)
posted by SMPA at 4:34 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


My heart goes out to the Pitt community. I imagine it feels much like DC did during the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, which were so soon the heels of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks. People with some of the strongest psyches I knew were truly crumbling in that kind of threat environment, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I hope this comes to a swift, peaceful resolution as soon as humanly possible.
posted by argonauta at 4:41 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


My heart goes out to everyone at Pitt. This is simply horrifying.
posted by meinvt at 4:46 PM on April 9, 2012


There's been a definite shift on campus in the last week or so, at least in the parts of the community where I travel - what seemed sort of like a ridiculous overplayed prank now has people seriously worried and scared. Especially, as was mentioned, on the heels of the Western Psych shooting and subsequent findings that previous incidents with the shooter threatening staff with baseball bats, etc. had been ignored. The administration just can't, and shouldn't, ignore this.

Which isn't to say I'm thrilled with the current situation either. The building lockdowns and bag searches that started up today feel a bit like a placeholder to be doing *something*, but don't seem all that productive, really.
posted by Stacey at 4:51 PM on April 9, 2012


Let me preface this by saying I think there is no easy way to handle threats like this and I'm glad that the university is doing whatever it feels it has to in order to ensure everyone's safety. But. BUT:

Has there ever been "threat" at a school that has been carried out? As in, someone called/emailed/scribbled on the wall at a school and actually proceeded to do what they said they were going to do? Is there a strategy in letting an institution know beforehand to warn them of your "attack" other than "get school closed" or "prank everyone" or "scare the shit out of everyone" or some combination of those?
posted by windbox at 5:50 PM on April 9, 2012


What's also frustrating is that the Dept of Homeland Security is working on this. The US has spent over a trillion dollars on this organization and they can't trace the threatening emails.

How does that make sense?
posted by glaucon

...because we have supported a culture and technologies that values privacy and anonymity as much as transparency and accountability. Simple answer to a very serious and troubling question.
posted by rmhsinc

Remember the whole Coventry business, where Churchill supposedly did nothing to protect an important British city from a devastating Luftwaffe attack to avoiding tipping the Germans to Bletchley Park's breaking of the Enigma code?
posted by jamjam at 5:53 PM on April 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are terrorist organizations like the IRA who called in their threats so that they could blow up a building without killing as many people, windbox, happens.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:55 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


My ings got a little out of control, there.
posted by jamjam at 5:57 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, of course the threats are bullshit, there will be no actual bombing, and everyone's time is being wasted. If I were in the situation, and had the option, I would, for myself, absolutely ignore the threat and carry on. But making that same decision for others -- especially others I have promised to take care of -- is a different matter.

Ignoring further threats might be the right answer, but only if everyone buys into that solution and walks in knowing the risks. It's not something an administrator ought to do on their own.
posted by tyllwin at 6:01 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's also frustrating is that the Dept of Homeland Security is working on this. The US has spent over a trillion dollars on this organization and they can't trace the threatening emails.

How does that make sense?
posted by glaucon

...because we have supported a culture and technologies that values privacy and anonymity as much as transparency and accountability. Simple answer to a very serious and troubling question.


that's just ridiculous. so, if our culture didn't value privacy and anonymity, this wouldn't have happened? ok, name a society that hasn't had crime because it didn't value privacy and anonymity. hm, doesn't make sense, does it?

this is a terrible situation. unfortunately it is simply just impossible to prevent people from acting this way. if you put everyone in the united states in jail, then the guards would become criminals. there's no such thing as absolute safety. innocent people get hurt every single day, and they always have & always will. kind of a bummer, but that's real life.
posted by facetious at 6:06 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because I have many friends who work at Pitt, I'm grateful that they're not just ignoring the threats. I imagine most of the friends and families of those at Pitt feel the same way.
posted by sugarbomb at 6:07 PM on April 9, 2012


I have friends and colleagues at Pitt, a sibling who is cross-registered between there and Duquesne, and am an alumni. I admit last night when the letter from the administration came across, most of my thoughts were frustration - cross-registered grad students aren't given Pitt IDs, therefore weren't going to be able to get into the buildings for their classes.

But then I thought about it most of the day today. It's easy to shrug this off and think it's a bunch of seniors who are caught up in the mania of it, calling in/emailing threats as a group, just making it a living phenomenon unto itself, letting the momentum take over. But when I think about how much of a part of this city Pitt is (for better, for worse) and how many of us would be devastated if something did happen - if something destroyed the Cathedral, or Hillman Library, or the Union - and how many of us have students, friends and loved ones, who could be hurt. And I'll admit it - I'm scared. I might watch too many episodes of Criminal Minds, but if god forbid this is some sort of "test" - I want Pitt to do everything they can do to keep students and faculty safe.
posted by librarianamy at 6:32 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I often wonder when I hear that a building has been evacuated because of a bomb threat - does that make sense purely from a safety standpoint? I mean, isn't it harder to attack people when they're dispersed in a building than when they're all gathered outside in front in a big group? Where does this evacuation protocol come from? Has it ever actually saved lives? I know that the IRA used to phone in real bomb threats and evacuations did save lives, but they would typically give a code word to let the police know it was real - do lone crazies phone ever phone in real threats, or is it purely to get attention?
posted by Dasein at 6:43 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


@facetious--I am not at all sure to what you are reacting--a commitment to privacy and anonymity makes it harder to trace activity--like most things they have positive and negative components. Not a judgement just a fact. I am not even sure where your comments about jail even come into this.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:11 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Start posting low key signs about whether individual buildings have been the subject of a bomb threat that day and leaving it up to students and faculty whether they think it's worth whatever level of risk they think is present to attend classes? I can't see any other reasonable solutions to the problem of unsubstantiated bomb threats.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:40 PM on April 9, 2012


The school I went to from Pre-K through 1st in DC routinely had bomb threats called in; I think I remember this happening at least two or three times. We would line up and leave, past the cubby holes; sometimes you would see the bomb K9 teams starting to work their way to the building. Then we'd sit on the floor of a gym at another nearby school, under the florescent lights. Of course nothing ever panned out, and of course that's what they told us-- that it was just safety, that it was just an empty threat. But you know what, it's scary enough when you're five and being lied to. I can't even imagine what it's like to go through the security motions again, and again, to know that there might be someone with a gun. Or a bomb. I remember avoiding windows during the sniper scare. Avoiding fields. Empty sports fields, for weeks, and weeks. Regardless of whether or not there's a real bomb, this is a serious problem, and I am so sorry for the students and staff and faculty of UPitt right now. Good luck.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:46 PM on April 9, 2012


Start posting low key signs about whether individual buildings have been the subject of a bomb threat that day and leaving it up to students and faculty whether they think it's worth whatever level of risk they think is present to attend classes?

Clearing all the people out of a building isn't just to keep people from getting blown up, it's to facilitate the search for explosives. Allowing people to make the choice as to whether it's risky makes such a search essentially impossible.

I can't see any other reasonable solutions to the problem of unsubstantiated bomb threats

Does anyone actually know the content of these threats enough to say that they're unsubstantiated? We're guessing that they're unsubstantiated because nothing's happened yet.
posted by muddgirl at 7:47 PM on April 9, 2012


Blasdelb--With that cavalier and dismissive attitude I wonder if you have ever had the singular responsibility for making administrative or executive decisions that involves a number of people who depend on your leadership.

I'm guessing the answer is "no," but that never stopped anyone from being, well, cavalier and dismissive on the internet before. My thoughts are with the folks in the Pitt academic community.

Anyone abusing this situation to grind their respective axes in this thread should be ashamed of themselves.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:11 PM on April 9, 2012


Usually when there's a bomb threat, it's pretty obvious what agenda the bomber is pushing. Any idea what's going on in this case?

Well, it could just be a prank. Someone just wants to see how much trouble they can cause.

My (I think) Senior year in highschool there were a bunch of bomb threats called in. We evacuated the school a couple of times. Eventually they caught him. Someone said that whenever the bomb threats were mentioned he'd get a big grin or whatever. He was obviously just doing it for the lulz, and probably had no access to a bomb at all.

It's a lot easier to send an email then build a bomb.

Beyond that, it could be someone who's doing poorly, or dropped out recently.

It seems like there have been a lot more spree killings recently. I would guess that it probably has something to do with the economy, more people feel like they'll never amount to anything. There is always a possibility that if this guy can't build a bomb he'll go on a shooting spree instead. But quite likely, nothing much will come of it.
posted by delmoi at 8:39 PM on April 9, 2012


Hope this mystery gets solved quickly.
posted by chinston at 8:45 PM on April 9, 2012


muddgirl: UPitt literally can not bet that this isn't the work of a local person who is having an extended breakdown which could end violently.

I hereby don my Internet Psychologist Hat to proclaim that even if this is all merely prolonged For The Evulz-trolling by an Internet Tough Guy who doesn't intend to commit physical violence, anyone who would deliberately conduct this level of psychological terrorizing in the face of mounting real-life costs and community fear is automatically emotionally/mentally disturbed, whether just a bored undergrad sociopath or not.

(I'm basing that on the vague, unsubstantiated assumption that police evidence indicates this is the work of one person, and not a sekrit #chan-group somewhere coordinating for the lulz and egging each other on.)
posted by nicebookrack at 9:47 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Phalene,

Is this possibly a laughing man style conspiracy, ie one where say, an initial threat (say a stressed female student scrawling in the bathroom) caught the attention of a copycat and there's more than one person not working in a co-operative fashion?

I don't think it's that likely that these are copycats, since there have been so many threats, and since they were all made so carefully without slipups. I'd expect a copycat to get sloppy enough to make this easy for the FBI. I feel concerned, with someone I know there, that it may end with real violence (although the campus lockdown should help make that less likely.)
posted by spbmp at 9:56 PM on April 9, 2012


A friend made the analogy of having a guy stand next to you and to pretend to punch you in the face [...] You're going to flinch every time, even if you're 100% sure that he's not actually going to hit you.

Actually after the third time you're going to deck him. Unfortunately that is not (yet) possible in this case.

My father taught at Pitt for twenty years and still has many friends there. He's very concerned for everyone.

As for bomb threats turning out, my first week at college at UCSC a call came in claiming that there was a bomb in the women's room at the bookstore, rigged to explode when someone opened a particular stall. It was exactly where the caller said it would be. It was supposed to show he meant business, but the police picked him up before he could start issuing threats.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:12 PM on April 9, 2012


"Blasdelb--With that cavalier and dismissive attitude I wonder if you have ever had the singular responsibility for making administrative or executive decisions that involves a number of people who depend on your leadership."

There is nothing cavalier about remembering that the University of Pittsburgh is a vital institution that does research the world desperately needs, trains educated citizens our country desperately needs, trains workers the State of Pennsylvania desperately needs, and is the center of what is left of Pittsburgh. As a community we already send kids the same age to places that have people who we know for certain want to kill them with bombs we know for certain they have, and all so that gas might be a little cheaper. UPitt on the other hand is actually worth fighting for.

There is something to leadership that seems to have been lost in this kind of focus on executive decisions and liability. The greatest thing the University has to fear is indeed fear itself. No one can guarantee that this deuchebag won't turn actually violent, but he is feeding on the fear that he can instill and it will only make him continue. Real leadership would be inspiring, would be to acknowledge risk but remind students, faculty, and staff of the meaningfulness of why they are at the University to begin with. What the University of Pittsburgh does is worth a hell of a lot more risk than this guy is capable of, even if we knew he was serious.

Of course each individual threat should still be taken seriously, buildings 'targeted' should be evacuated and sweeped, and each development that is directly related to student safety should be transparently communicated, but for fucks sake this shouldn't shutdown the fucking University like this. We don't know if this guy has any intention or ability to build a bomb, but we do know that he can't build a bomb big enough to take out UPitt, even for a semester, only UPitt can do that.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:47 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


"the center of what is left of Pittsburgh"

This Pittsburgher says "huh?" Are you sure you're not thinking of that expansion pack for Fallout 3?
posted by Chef Flamboyardee at 11:07 PM on April 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm a Pitt alum, and I still have lots of friends and colleagues there. As others have mentioned, this has been a tough semester for Pitt. I hope this is all resolved soon.
posted by rebel_rebel at 11:26 PM on April 9, 2012


Faint of Butt: "I was wondering when this would show up on MeFi. There's a very active thread on Something Awful about it right now, including lots of participation from Pitt students."

Nice one scooping me on this thread. So, I bet you can figure out who I am there, my goon identity... So what's yours?

And I really look forward to them finding the person(s) responsible and watching them burn.
posted by Samizdata at 12:55 AM on April 10, 2012


There has been what looks like an impromptu Pitt Couchsurfing spreadsheet started so that no one is without a place to stay. Over 130 volunteers to host strangers.
posted by amicamentis at 5:44 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


We had a year or so of bomb threats when I was in high school - at its peak there was at least one, usually two, threats per week. This was right around Columbine so people were understandably twitchy.

Whoever was doing it (obviously a student, but I'm not sure they ever got caught) realized that the school would be evacuated to the ball fields whenever a threat was called in, so it was usually warm sunny days that it happened. The bomb squad usually took three to four hours to sweep the whole building, which meant about half the school usually missed lunch during these escapades. Students started carrying "bomb threat kits" with them - usually a few granola bars, a bottle of water, and a frisbee or something similar.

One day, we had to evacuate the whole school grounds - someone may have called in a second threat, I don't remember. At any rate, they marched three thousand students from the high school to the middle school, about a mile and a half away. A bunch of students escaped through the trees and skipped the rest of the school day.

What finally broke the bomb threat cycle was one fateful day that one was called in on one of the coldest, wettest days of the year. No one was allowed to go to their lockers after the threat was called, so the entire student body was standing outside on the track in the pouring rain. Some of the teachers managed to grab rolls of trash bags so people could use them as makeshift ponchos, and eventually the administration called in some buses so people could get out of the rain. There weren't enough buses for everyone.

After that, they decided to institute a lockdown policy for every bomb threat. Every classroom gets secured, no one is allowed to enter or leave. No bathrooms. No changing classes. No retrieving anything from lockers. We got one threat called in after the new lockdown policy, and the culprit must have realized that staying in science class for four hours was not nearly as fun as hanging out on the field. We didn't have another bomb threat after that.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:15 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does surprise me is that it seems to be getting relatively little attention outside of Pitt in the city. It's mentioned on the Post Gazette's site but not high priority. It was not until I saw this graph yesterday that I even knew how many there had been recently. I don't know if it's a deliberate attempt by Pitt to avoid publicity (and perhaps more bomb threats by copycats) or what.
posted by amicamentis at 6:41 AM on April 10, 2012


Of course each individual threat should still be taken seriously, buildings 'targeted' should be evacuated and sweeped, and each development that is directly related to student safety should be transparently communicated, but for fucks sake this shouldn't shutdown the fucking University like this.

I'm very confused. Pitt is not "Shut down." Targeted buildings are being evacuated, swept, and then everyone goes back in and classes resume. You seem to be demanding they do what they're already doing.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:51 AM on April 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just got my Alumni newsletter (from PittBusiness) - odd that its all chirpy and newsy with not a single mention of anything that might be concerning various alums
posted by infini at 7:46 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"the center of what is left of Pittsburgh"

"This Pittsburgher says "huh?" Are you sure you're not thinking of that expansion pack for Fallout 3?"

There is a reason UPMC is written large on the old U.S. Steel Tower, 10% of all the jobs in the region are split between UPMC itself and the other medical infrastructure it supports. The robotics, health care, nuclear engineering, tourism, and biomedical technology industries that are behind the amazing revival of Pittsburgh certainly didn't come for the sensibly laid out roads. If it wern't for the universities, Pittsburgh would be empty and decaying like Detroit, but with them and the industries they spawned there is now the kind of critical mass of educated and well paid creative young people that attract corporate campuses that attract more educated and well paid young people. You don't really think that the strip district would still have thriving local groceries, or that the city would be filled with galleries and art shops, without any of this do you?
posted by Blasdelb at 7:49 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't really think that the strip district would still have thriving local groceries, or that the city would be filled with galleries and art shops, without any of this do you?

I think the point is that saying "What is left of Pittsburgh" implies that the Pittsburgh of today is a remnant of what it used to be, as opposed to a new version of the same city, not reduced by the transition from steel to biotech-financial-educational but transformed. The point is that the city I went to school in isn't "What's left of Pittsburgh," it is Pittsburgh.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:13 AM on April 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


The lack of coverage has to be due to requests by the university or police, I think; both to limit the attention the bad guy is able to generate and to limit copycats.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:35 AM on April 10, 2012


Both of my parents are Pitt Alums, I attended extension classes there when I lived in Pittsburgh in the nineties.

A couple of things leapt out at me about this.

First, Pitt is a very tall, multi-storied building (for the most part), and the elevator system is beyond bizarre (certain cars go to certain floors). Evacuating the building is a nightmare, especially for people in the upper most part of the building. With 42 stories, going down the stairs is a hell of a schlep (having evacuated sky-scrapers in my life, let's just say your calves are never the same afterwards.)

Secondly, Pitt is surrounded by other stuff. It's not a campus in the traditional sense of the word. There's CMU pretty much across the street, parks, businesses, everyone is impacted if Pitt has to close down, evacuate or heaven forbid, is actually attacked.

It's a damn shame and I hope whoever is doing this is caught and brought to justice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:54 AM on April 10, 2012


So, after two days of almost-silence (there were threats called into another Pittsburgh university, a western PA university, and a Starbucks on the edge of Pitt's campus, but no one's sure if they're related to this) there were threats called into five residential buildings around 4 this morning. It's pretty cold here right now.

There was also a threat called in for the chancellor's house.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:46 AM on April 11, 2012


Looks like they've arrested someone.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:31 PM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a Mark Lee Krangle from Pittsburgh who apparently doesn't like Jimmy Carter very much, not sure if it's actually the same guy, but he hasn't removed any comments from his facebook yet.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:51 AM on April 12, 2012


There was apparently some back and forth on his facebook before his arrest, to which he responded by commenting and deleting others comments, but didn't change his privacy settings to exclude public comments. I suspect this indicates he isn't quite tech savvy enough to use an anonymous remailer or whatever, not that they're difficult. It's more likely that he's exploiting the situation to draw attention to himself to promote his crazy ass book about Jimmy Carter.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:53 AM on April 12, 2012


jeffburdges - it's the same guy. He's a nutjob.

Nine more threats last night - four around 11:30 and five around 5:20.
posted by punchtothehead at 4:52 AM on April 12, 2012


PittNews just tweeted that the bomb threat total is up to 78 now. Buildings included were: Hillman Library, Frick Fine Arts, David Lawrence, Posvar, William Pitt Union, and The University Club.
posted by amicamentis at 7:49 AM on April 12, 2012


RE: the transgender student taken for questioning (RE: deleted post): It makes me really sad ANGRY that resources like Safe2Pee are still necessary because of transphobic bullshit like this.

Wikipedia says Pitt has nearly 29,000 students (if the threat-bomber IS a student). That's three times the size of my hometown. And of all those people, this trans student was the only one the university wronged, the most likely to be a threat? Really? Really?

In that vein, looks like the Safe2Pee at U of Pittsburgh entries could use some updating.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:07 AM on April 15, 2012


deleted post nicebookrack refers to. Apparently there is a simultaneous issue about a transgender student who was expelled for using the "wrong" locker room, and police attention has now focused on him as a suspect in the threats, leading to harassment by the public.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:02 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


University of Pittsburgh police today arrested a man at Pittsburgh International Airport and charged him with one count each of making terroristic threats and harassment by communication.
One count each what? Very weird. I wonder if this guy was just some crank who decided to start calling in his own bomb threats for fun.

Also, how many bogus bomb threats do you have to call in before people stop taking you seriously? If there have been 78 threats, and no explosions, it seems obvious that the person making the threats can't follow through.
posted by delmoi at 3:42 PM on April 15, 2012


If there have been 78 threats, and no explosions, it seems obvious that the person making the threats can't follow through.

I think after 78 threats it's obvious that they're trying to fuck with your head. That does not necessarily mean they can't also act on those threats.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:32 AM on April 16, 2012


If anyone is still reading: nine dorm threats last night, current total 137.
posted by amicamentis at 6:49 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Students are now sleeping in the basketball courts.
posted by amicamentis at 6:50 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find this immensely disturbing--out of proportion to what I would have expected from myself. My strongest sympathies go to everyone experiencing and trying to manage this. Surely it is not the tragedy of executed bombings but the relentless unease/stress/impotence is a malignancy on the soul and spirit. Thanks for the continued updates.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:56 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been keeping an eye on the stopthepittbombthreats blog, and it's interesting to see so many of the posts coming from parents. A few students, a faculty/staff person or two, but lots of parental frustration... many talking about how frustrated they are that their kids are sticking it out.

The spreadsheet in Google Docs had the count at 147 when I last looked, but the blog counts it at 137. Regardless, it's astonishing. Many discussions on various sites have referred to Rutgers in the '70s; there were nearly 200 in three months' time. This is definitely set to eclipse it. I think there were like 16 or 17 yesterday, alone.

This is certainly the very definition of terrorism. It's awful, and underclassmen are bearing the brunt of it.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 12:57 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Different sources are counting the threats a little differently - e.g. a few have happened off campus (the chancellor's house, the not-Pitt-affiliated School for the Blind), and not everyone is counting those. Or it may just be that it's hard to keep up a running total when you're getting 15 bomb threat texts a day (and a similar number of threat-is-clear texts) so your phone basically never stops buzzing with updates.

So very tired of this.
posted by Stacey at 2:56 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


In newer updates, this is just weird. Pitt's withdrawing its reward money after anonymous e-mail claiming that will stop the bomb threats. Or at least the parts of the bomb threats that the e-mailer is responsible for.

We're supposed to get snow over the next few days. Pity the poor students who wind up evacuated from dorms in the middle of the night in the snow during finals week, if they couldn't arrange other places to stay.
posted by Stacey at 7:11 PM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


A group calling itself "The Threateners" has declared an end to what it claims is its emailed bomb threat campaign against the University of Pittsburgh because Pitt officials have met its demand: withdrawal of the university's promised reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the bomb threats.
Similar messages were sent to campus paper The Pitt News as well.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:59 AM on April 23, 2012


To summarize "The Threateners" claims:

* Someone was writing bomb threats in bathrooms.
* Potentially a different person was sending them by email.
* The administration offered a reward.
* "The Threateners" got upset about this reward, so they collectively began sending copycat bomb threats until the administration withdrew the reward.

I don't really believe that "The Threateners" are really different from the 'original' emailer, but if so their actions were incredibly, unjustifiably cruel and I hope they are tracked down and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
posted by muddgirl at 8:13 AM on April 23, 2012


(on preview, yes and...)


Also, the Provost's office yesterday announced arrangements for undergraduate final exams scheduled for this week via email and this ghastly image pdf. "All final exams for undergraduate courses will be administered in five buildings", with announcements posted to a campus website the day before giving the specific location for each exam. The way the local NPR station was phrasing it, I wondered if the specific buildings were being kept quiet, but in fact they're named in the letter.

All dorms and exam buildings are to be preswept in the morning. If a threat to an exam building appears, "buildings will be evacuated and alerts sent only if it is determined that there is an imminent threat." If a dorm threat "is deemed not to be an imminent threat, a message will be sent alerting members of the community that a threat has been received but is not believed to be genuine, and that evacuation is voluntary not mandatory."

One does wonder why certain of these actions couldn't have taken place weeks ago, when it first became apparent the majority of the threats were not "genuine"...
posted by FlyingMonkey at 8:18 AM on April 23, 2012


I presume it's because they didn't have the manpower to pre-sweep every single building on campus every morning. They are only pre-sweeping dorms and exam buildings.
posted by muddgirl at 8:20 AM on April 23, 2012


In other words, the implication is that if threats are received to non-cleared buildings, they will be treated the same way as before.
posted by muddgirl at 8:21 AM on April 23, 2012


Just another person chiming in to say I appreciate the continuing updates here. I'm glad they have a good way of handling finals.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:30 PM on April 23, 2012


I think the letter demanding the reward be rescinded is very peculiar. Assuming that whoever wrote the letter is the one (or group) making the threats, what is the motive? Is it so that others have less incentive to do serious detective work? Is this a common thing to happen when rewards are posted after a series of bomb threats?
posted by amicamentis at 12:59 PM on April 23, 2012


amicamentis: "Assuming that whoever wrote the letter is the one (or group) making the threats, what is the motive?"

The idea seems to have been that whoever created the original threats was "a kid" setting a "prank" and that a reward "bounty", especially a $50K "bounty", is unnecessary at best, if not excessive.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 1:10 PM on April 23, 2012


I just don't believe that a group of someones was so pissed about a reward offered for information about a bomb threat that these someones would then go and make over 100 more bomb threats just in retaliation.

One of my favorite comments from that article: "I wish Pitt admin would have increased the reward to $1 MM after receiving that email."
posted by amicamentis at 8:50 PM on April 23, 2012


Yeah, here are my two thoughts about "The Threateners" - either they are just the original threatener putting on a front, and post-hoc justifying his/her actions (like, "Oh, before it was just a prank, but NOW I have a reaso!") or they are a bunch of juvenile assholes that sometimes collect together online and egg each other into doing stupid stuff for 'just' causes.

Either way, I hope they're caught and can be charged with the full cost of all the evacuations, rather than saddling the student body with with cost.
posted by muddgirl at 7:20 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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