FBI mum on Pitt threats probe
Local and federal agencies are still trying to track down the source of bomb threats that disrupted six weeks of classes at the University of Pittsburgh this spring, but the FBI won’t provide details on how.
“Together with our partner law enforcement agencies and with the assistance of the community, the FBI will continue to pursue those who promulgate violent extremism as one of our top priorities,” said Kelly Kochamba, a spokeswoman for the bureau’s Pittsburgh office.
The agencies also are investigating several threats made to Carnegie Mellon University this month, but Kochamba did not say whether investigators think there’s a link to the Pitt threats.
At the height of the threats that emptied campus buildings a combined 150 times, U.S. Attorney David Hickton said on April 6 that the Joint Terrorism Task Force would investigate the threats. The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Thursday declined comment on whether the task force is still involved.
Pitt spokesman John Fedele referred questions to the FBI.
The threats — most of them emailed to news media — suddenly stopped on April 21 when a group calling itself “The Threateners” demanded the university withdraw a $50,000 reward seeking information on the identity of the person making the threats. No bombs were found.
“It’s an ego-driven type of threat,” said retired FBI agent Lawrence Likar, a professor at La Roche College in McCandless. “They don’t normally carry out the threat, but most people don’t get caught.”
A few hints of the investigation’s focus have been revealed.
On April 18, FBI agents with a search warrant seized a New York computer server used by the Internet host May First/People Link. Authorities said they believed someone was using a remailer program to cover their tracks when sending threats through the server.
Jamie McClelland, the service’s director, said agents returned the server four days later but didn’t tell company officials. A motion-activated camera recorded agents reinstalling and rebooting the server before leaving. The company isn’t using the server and hasn’t heard from investigators since, he said.
“It seemed obvious in the beginning that there was no useful information on the server,” McClelland said.
A transgendered couple from Johnstown said in early April that the FBI considered them people of interest in the investigation. Pitt-Johnstown officials cited Seamus Johnston for disorderly conduct and threw him out of school after he used a male locker room, though he was born female.
The couple appeared before a federal grand jury, and investigators have returned computers that the couple surrendered. They have not been charged.
This week, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey called for the passage of legislation that would help schools respond to threats and emergencies. The CAMPUS Safety Act, according to Casey’s office, would cost $2.75 million for the Department of Justice to operate a center that would offer officer training, conduct research, develop emergency response protocols and increase collaboration between campus law enforcement agencies.