By some counts the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) has been the target of over 80 various kinds of bomb threats since the first warning of a bomb hidden on campus was found scrawled on the wall of a women's restroom on February 13. The threats have continued to pour in in various forms, to include letter, telephone calls, and text messages, with the threats being made directly to the college or through various other outlets, to include messages sent to the local media. Twelve threats were received this past Monday, 13 on Thursday and by Friday morning an additional five threats had been received against various campus facilities.
Authorities and the college have offered a $50,000 dollar reward leading to the identification, arrest and likely prosecution of the person or persons responsible for this series of disruptive threats, especially critical at this time as final exams are looming over both students and faculty alike. Many students found the initial threats somewhat entertaining, something to break up the monotony of school and studying for finals. The continuing series of threats however, received both during the day and at night, have required buildings and dormitories to be evacuated and searched, causing some students sleep in their clothes so they can quickly exit their dorm rooms, or to pack extra clothing and food to aid in their evacuation, this while other students have sought residences off campus or even given up and gone home, hoping the college will allow them to take their finals via the Internet.
While no bombs have gone off or explosives found, at least one person, a 65-year-old former Pitt professor, has been arrested and charged with making terroristic threats against four current and retired Pitt professors. In his case, while he is not suspected of making all of these threats, he does, apparently, link his recent threatening activities to the series of bomb threats on campus, something like the sender of the 2001 Anthrax letters did by linking his actions with the 9/11 attacks on America. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are using every old and new investigative technique in the book to try to identify the offenders in this matter. Meanwhile like the Norwalk virus or the flu, bomb threats against college campus' have spread from coast to coast, with some colleges suffering multiple threats in a single day or week, again causing these schools to consider evacuating buildings and conduction costly searches, this while the offenders, believed to be both men and women, continue their juvenile activities directed against colleges that they (or their parents) likely pay good money for them to attend.
How Many Threats
While there are an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 bomb threats in America every year, few result in an actual bombing or in a hoax or actual explosive device being found. "Better safe than sorry" is the posture most schools and other facilities choose to adopt when they evacuate and search, an action that likely creates a Pavlovian reaction on the part of the person making the threat and just as likely spawns copy cats across the country.
Types of Threats
There are usually two types of bomb threats, non-specific and specific. Non-specific threats are usually made by someone who simply states there is a bomb on campus, sometimes in a particular building, but usually with few other specifics to aid in the evaluation of such threats.
Specific threats, as the term implies, usually provide specific information about the bomb or device, where it is allegedly located, when it will explode or be detonated, and sometimes information about the specifications of the device itself and the motive for placing this device on campus. Motives for making such threats are wide and varied, anything from getting even for some real or perceived incident, to ethnic, religious, or ideological hate against some indicated target.
On a college campus some threateners may simply find it good sport to make such threats, meanwhile others like the power and control such threats afford them, and possible the notoriety their threats appear to provide them. Unfortunately the more the media covers such stories, the more individuals sitting on the edge of the behavioral abyss may choose to copy such actions for their own varied personal reasons. In 1981 a highly publicized bombing took place at New York's JFK airport, to be followed by over 600 individual bomb threat within the following week.
Some students or others associated with the campus may make such threats to simply disrupt class or even to avoid tests. I remember, for example, a series of telephonic bomb threats conveyed to a New York City bank around opening time, this over a series of weeks. As the FBI Profiler assigned to the case, I asked the bank to identify and account for any employee who was occasionally late to work and whose job might have been endangered by his lack of timeliness. Sure enough, when the next bomb threat was received, this employee was seen backing into the waiting group of evacuated employees outside of the bank , attempting to pass himself off as another disrupted employee when, in fact, he had made the bomb threat from a pay telephone a block away, this to cover his tardiness.
How to Stop the Threats
To stop a series of threats like these experienced by Pitt and other colleges across the nation, the authorities must conduct a vigorous investigation to identify the threatener or threateners, announce that they have many good leads that will soon result in one or more arrests, and, when identified, prosecute the person or persons to the full extent of the law. Making a bomb threat, for example, is a federal offense punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine, a stature that also applies to juvenile offenders. One or two high profile arrests can help to quickly stem the number and type of these threats, thereby allowing these schools to get back to their main job, teaching students to grow into responsible adults...