Press Releases

Email threats close a local school

Seton-La Salle closes over threat of violence

By Rick Wills and Tony Raap Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 8:30 a.m.

Cybersecurity experts said they expect authorities to quickly identify the source of an online threat that shut down a Catholic high school Wednesday and Thursday in Mt. Lebanon.

Diocese officials called off class at Seton-La Salle High School because its principal, Lauren Martin, and several faculty members received a threatening email about 1 a.m. Wednesday.

The person who sent the email threatened to kill students and staff and alluded to school shootings at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, Mt. Lebanon Deputy Police Chief Aaron Lauth said.

Mt. Lebanon police asked for the FBI's help “to try to determine where this email may have originated,” Lauth said.

He said the FBI has more expertise in investigating computer crimes. Whoever sent the email took steps to conceal his or her identity, Lauth said. FBI Special Agent Bill Crowley said the bureau is providing technical assistance but declined to elaborate.

Classes were canceled Thursday, according to a message posted Wednesday night on the school's web page.

Bishop David Zubik said the FBI will make a recommendation as to when the school should reopen.

“We are taking every step that is necessary. We will follow their direction,” Zubik said.

Albert Whale, president and chief security officer of IT Security Inc., suspects authorities will arrest someone soon.

Investigators will get a subpoena from a judge to search an Internet service provider's records, Whale said.

“It's not hard to look at the logs and figure out who sent an email,” Whale said. “This is pretty much a no-brainer.”

Even if the sender deleted the email, “That data is still there,” he said. It's just a matter of investigators using the proper forensic techniques to retrieve the email.

“I would expect an arrest sooner rather than later,” Whale said.

Threats of violence are rare at local Catholic schools, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, a spokesman for the diocese.

“We've never had one like this that I'm aware of,” said Lengwin, who has been with the diocese for 50 years.

Officials elsewhere have seen an increase in tech-savvy students using smartphone apps, social media and Internet phone services to make anonymous reports of bombs and other threats of violence at schools.

Ken Trump, a school safety consultant in Cleveland, reviewed more than 800 such threats during the first half of the 2014-15 school year and found that about one-third were sent using text messages, social media, email and other online means.

In most cases, the threats turn out to be hoaxes, and authorities usually are able to identify the source, Trump said. Students who are caught could be expelled and, in some cases, prosecuted.

“Kids are pressing ‘send' before thinking,” Trump said. “They're not realizing the consequences of their actions.”

Staff writer Michael Hasch and The Associated Press contributed. Rick Wills and Tony Raap are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

Read more: http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/8129458-74/officials-threat-lasalle