Police investigate threats at area schools

Police are investigating threats reported at schools in Cambria, Centre and Somerset counties.

Students at Penn Cambria Middle School remained safe Wednesday morning, when a nonspecific threat by a student was reported.

“This threat was investigated by school officials in collaboration with local law enforcement,” a message posted to Penn Cambria School District’s website read. “There was no immediate danger to any students or staff.”

According to state police, a 13-year-old student “made threatening comments” to a staff member at the middle school. District Super­intendent William Marshall later elaborated, explaining the student shared a note with a teacher in a one-on-one classroom setting.

The note, Marshall said, contained information that could have been “interpreted as concerning.”

Marshall made a point to reveal that no weapons were involved, and the note did not name targeted students or a plan to attack the school.

Still, police officers were called, and the student was removed from the building, Marshall said.

“Obviously we are going to err on the side of caution,” he said.

The 13-year-old student now faces criminal charges of disorderly conduct and making terroristic threats, according to a state police information release. The charges are to be handled by the Cambria County’s juvenile court system.

The student was released to the custody of his father, according to the release.

The message posted by officials to the distict’s website assured residents that “the safety and security of all our students and staff remains our top priority.”

Marshall said he used mass-calling technology to reach more than 2,500 parents and guardians on their phones. In a recorded message, he explained the situation and offered safety assurances, he said.

“We want to be as open and transparent as possible with the parents,” Marshall said.

The Penn Cambria threat came exactly a week after 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz was arrested following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The shooting left 17 people dead and more than a dozen wounded.

Since the Feb. 14 shooting, a number of “threats” have been made at schools across the country, including in Pennsylvania.

A pair of threats were reported at Somerset County schools, and state police reported that a threat was made Tuesday by a 15-year-old student at Philipsburg-Osceola Senior High School in Centre County. A state police release said troopers are doing interviews and do not believe there is a credible threat to students or the school at this time.

Local districts have taken a proactive approach to prepare for the growing trend of threats at schools.

A lockdown drill was scheduled for Wednesday at Cambria Heights High School, and Altoona Area School District leaders hosted active shooter training for their staff.

At Penn Cambria, educators have been working to maintain a dialogue with students, Marshall said.

Marshall said it is important for students to understand they are accountable for what they say and write.

“It has to be taken seriously,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.