On the Pitt Bomb Threats

It’s been months since the Pitt bomb threats. Things have been quiet and worry-free for a while. But after Aurora and because I never got around to talking about it before, it deserves talking about now.

For the latecomers, I spent the last few months sharing a rented house in Pittsburgh with my cousin Meredith; her boyfriend, Erio; and a mutual friend Diana. Meredith and Diana and both Duquesne students. I graduated from Pitt-Greensburg last year. Erio, at the time, was finishing up his senior year at Pitt in Oakland.

At the height of the threats and the fear, we thought the threats couldn’t possibly be a hoax. We ended up being wrong, and this is one of the only cases in which I was glad of that.

When the threats started, it was kind of strange. One or two here or there. Probably just another idiot who wanted to get out of an exam. But then they kept happening and happening to the point where multiple campus buildings were being evacuated each day and eventually, dorms in the night–from February to April, when temperatures here can still get quite cold. The number of individual threats was around 140, found everywhere from written in bathrooms to emailed to the university and local newspapers.

I would check Facebook and Twitter on my phone from work to see if anything new happened. Often, I would see Meri or Erio at home and hear about others, plus the other details and rumors not included in the papers.

Someone was very deliberately disrupting everything, but beyond disruption, the threats were scary. We were all worried about Erio. Meri didn’t want him to go to class, and neither did I. Our fears started to grow bigger, though–what if this wasn’t about Pitt? What if someone was planning something in the city? What if we were in danger just by living here? Erio came back from class with stories of kids crying in class because they were scared, couldn’t sleep, or both.

Many Pitt students turned into amateur detectives, with blogs popping up dedicated to closely examining the threats and trying to find who was responsible. Not even the police could do that–the emails were routed through anonymous servers that were impossible to track, and the companies running the services said they wouldn’t cooperate if they could. That was baffling. Someone was threatening to harm an entire university, lives very well could’ve been in danger, and the company was more interested in protecting the privacy of its users. At some point, life and safety needs to be more important than privacy.

The four of us turned into amateur detectives, too, throwing around theories that impressed even my military father, including the threats as a way to get the city’s law-enforecement focused in one area in order to carry out mass-murder in another, studying evacuation patterns, and getting everyone outside in order to shoot from the tops of the Cathedral of Learning or from the center of the evacuations. We even printed a map of the campus and marked the threatened buildings, looking for patterns. Erio and I, being paranoid, insisted on shredding it afterward. “All it takes,” we both said, “is for one person to see it in our trash and call the cops.”

I worked the afternoon shift then, so I’d get home around 11:30 or midnight to see all three of my roommates huddled around the dining-room table, scared and talking about the latest threat, the latest theory, and their latest fears. Everyone was visibly shaken. At least once I was greeted with a frightened Meri saying, “Make sure you lock the door” (I always did anyway). We talked about everything from getting guns or tasers to how to leave quickly if we had to.

We heard the rumors of suspects, including early on-campus rumblings of Mark Lee Krangle, whose Facebook posts were full of Pitt–including plans to travel to the city. He made us nervous, and he was ultimately arrested but was not the one who did it. We jokingly referred to him as The Krangler, but he scared us.

And then one day, the people responsible said in an email that the threats would stop if the university revoked the $50,000 reward it had posted shortly after the first few threats came in. So the university did, and the Threateners, as they called themselves, delivered and stopped the threats.

They disagreed with the university offering a reward for information on “some young kid who’d pranked the university.” This still makes me angry. What was the point? Were the Threateners trying to protect this kid? If so, why would someone protect him or her? Bomb threats aren’t a joke. They aren’t a prank. You can’t scare thousands of people and get away with or think it’s okay. Actions have consequences. The guilty people have to face them.

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