Calls to Pittsburgh-area high schools claiming ‘active shooter’ appear to be hoax

Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic high schools in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood received the calls around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning

By: - March 29, 2023 12:45 pm
A view of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh

Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh (WikiMedia Commons Image).

PITTSBURGH – Calls to two high schools in Pittsburgh indicating there was an active shooter on campus appear to be part of a larger, coordinated series of hoax calls across the state, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic high schools in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood received the calls around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, prompting the schools to go into lockdown. 

The University of Pittsburgh, whose main campus is in the same neighborhood, also went on lockdown around 10:50 a.m, and nearby Carnegie Mellon University warned to avoid the area.

Allegheny County Communications Director Amie Downs said in a statement that the county’s 911 “received three separate calls reporting that there is an active shooter in three separate schools. She later updated the statement that calls came into two schools, Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic; the third call was a miscommunication. 

“We are also aware that similar reports are coming in for schools outside of the county. In each instance, law enforcement is responding but believes that these are false reports. Thus far, there has been no active shooter found and no injuries at any school. Law enforcement will continue to thoroughly check out any reports,” Downs said.

Acting Pittsburgh Police Chief Thomas Stangrecki said in a news conference that the calls came from outside the schools, and it was working with the FBI, state police and other agencies to determine the source of the calls. 

Mayor Ed Gainey, who has called for gun safety reforms, expressed relief that everyone was safe during a brief news conference. “You’ve heard me say this a number of times and it’s not just in the city, it’s throughout America,” Gainey said. “That’s what makes it so different and real. At the end of the day, this is going on everywhere. We heard the hoax, was going on all throughout America.”

Laurel Highlands High School, Hopewell High School, and New Castle High School received similar threats, according to WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, all of which were later found to be false. 

Pittsburgh radio station WESA-FM reported that a call to Central Catholic parents shortly after 11 a.m. confirmed that everyone was safe.

The FBI’s Pittsburgh office released a statement saying it was “aware of the numerous swatting incidents,” at area schools, adding that it takes such threats “very seriously, because it puts innocent people at risk.” 

The FBI added it had no information to indicate a specific, credible threat, and that it was continuing to work with state and federal law enforcement officials. 

“Active shootings, hoaxes, evacuations, drills… this is no way for our kids to live,” U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District, said in a statement. “This is disgraceful. And no, Americans, this is not normal, and it definitely doesn’t have to be this way.”

The hoaxes came a day after six people, including three 9-year-old students, were killed in a shooting at a school in Tennessee. 

In October 2017, a gunman shot and killed 11 people in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, not far from the high schools in Wednesday’s incident. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly