“Swatting” calls made to local Oakland schools last week

Written By Cassandra Harris, News Editor

Last Wednesday, March 29, schools “all over the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” received computer generated “spoofing” or hoax calls reporting a possible active shooter situation. According to Point Park Police Sergeant Mathew Mays, the City of Pittsburgh Police along with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) police were dispatched to Central Catholic High School where they received initial reports that six students were shot in their STEM building.  

According to multiple reports, many students did not receive any formal notification from Point Park’s safety department about the calls on Wednesday. 

Maddie Meeker is a freshman sports communication major, she initially assumed that she didn’t receive a notification from the safety department because the department wouldn’t want to cause panic Downtown.

“They should have sent out a message like, hey, there’s this going on, we’re not really sure, but we’ll keep you updated,” Meeker said. “Just so we would have peace of mind and also give our family peace of Mind.”

According to a statement from Tim Wilson, assistant vice president of information technology services, their system shows that an email message was sent to all students at 11:21 a.m. on March 29 from the Point Park Police account notifying students about the situation in Oakland.  

“We see a “delivered” status to student accounts within our Microsoft O365 system,” Wilson said. “With everything we have researched related to this subject our central IT systems operated as they should.” 

According to Mays, when police arrived at Central Catholic police quickly realized that nothing was going on.

“There’s nobody acting frantic, there was nobody in a panic,” Mays said “So, then they thought possibly it was Oakland Catholic High School, next door to central. They sent officers there again, but there was no response. So probably within 3 minutes they realized that, you know, this was probably a hoax.” 

Initial information was sent out to the Pitt community via their Emergency Notification System (ENS). According to Ted Fritz, vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management, Pitt campus was placed on lockdown. 

According to Mays, although the report ended up being a computer generated “spoofing” or hoax, the dispatched officers continued to treat the incident as a real one. In the situation that Point Park is placed on lockdown the university will follow ALICE protocols.  

Austin McGrew is a sophomore business information systems major at Pitt. On March 29 when he received news about the shooting he walked “the back way” to avoid Oakland Catholic and Central Catholic High Schools. 

“Pitt is obviously a moderately old university, like, nobody has trained for this or prepared for this, all they did was lock the doors,” McGrew said. “So, like I mean, I guess we’re all adults and they can’t really control how we react, it’s just a fight or flight response at that point. We weren’t given a protocol as to how to react to these situations because I don’t think the university really prepared for this to happen or predicted it.” 

Meeker was confused and scared when she heard about the swatting calls from a professor. Her father works as a teacher in central Pennsylvania; there were schools in his area, that also received calls. 

“I know friends back home texting me, asking me ‘hey, are you OK? Are you on lockdown?’” Meeker said. “Because I heard like some schools in Pittsburgh are and I’m like, ‘oh, yeah, no, I guess we’re fine, I don’t know.’”

Meeker thinks that Downtown is a better area but it is still scary because of the “run-ins” she has with strangers.

“I definitely think our generation is getting to a point where, oh here it is again, oh here it is again,” Meeker said, “but it is becoming more scary because it is happening so awkward so frequently, but I do think it’s like it’s nothing new when we hear about it.”

Rhakya Hipps is a senior creative writing major at Point Park, she spoke about how the “college experience” is affected by events like these. For students who haven’t lived here she thinks that it would be difficult to handle.

“We live Downtown and we go through a lot of circumstances of shootings and violence,” Hipps said. “So, I guess it’s kind of bad to say this, but it’s kind of normalized in such a weird way, so when certain things like that happen and you hear it, it’s like you don’t know how exactly to react.”

Hipps believes that living Downtown desensitizes us to crime.

“It’s also one of those things where it’s like, it just happens,” Hipps said. “But I think if Point Park wants to make some change, I think they should have more active duty, alert us more for those types of things and prepare for those circumstances.”

The safety department offers ALICE training classes for staff on their first orientation through Human Resources and offers yearly training for students. They rely mostly on the city university life classes to educate students on ALICE procedures.

“So, we kind of let the university, one-on-one teachers, professors, you know, dictate if they want us to come in,” Mays said. “Sometimes it’s about rape prevention, sometimes it’s just about campus safety. If it’s about campus safety; I generally try to work the ALICE video into it.”

To receive more information on ALICE training and the university’s procedures, contact the university public safety department.