J. Serra Hall targeted with false active shooter call

By Chris Dacanay

Steubenville police responded on the evening of April 13 to a phone call alleging the presence of an active shooter at St. Junipero Serra Hall, which turned out to be false.

Police arrived at the hall around 7 p.m., according to WTOV NEWS9. Once there, police swept the area, questioned students and determined there was no threat.

All students received a special bulletin alert at roughly 8:36 p.m. The bulletin confirmed that there was an active shooter report but that police and campus security responded immediately and determined there had never been any physical threat.

Senior Anthony Zeszut, a residence assistant for St. Junipero Serra Hall, said he was not in the hall when the police arrived, but he arrived there as soon as possible. Zeszut said approximately five police cars and 10 officers were on the scene.

“I know police swept the building, and the call probably came from within J. Serra,” Zeszut said. “(The call was made) using a landline phone in J. Serra.”

Franciscan University sent out a follow-up Student Life Bulletin email, addressed from the Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, on the afternoon of April 14. In the email, Pivonka confirmed the previous bulletin’s information and apologized for the delay in time between when police arrived and when students were notified of the false report.

“I am sorry for any unnecessary concern and fear this may have caused you,” Pivonka said. “Our first commitment is to the safety of our students and our entire campus community, and yesterday’s events provide us with the opportunity to continue to assess and improve our emergency protocols.

“Just yesterday afternoon, the Jefferson County Sheriff gave a campus presentation on how to respond to an active shooter scenario, and the University has an active shooter mock drill scheduled for later this semester to help everyone prepare for such situations.”

According to NEWS9, Steubenville Police Chief Kenny Anderson said that officers will respond to future incidents in the same way, no matter whether they are false or not.

The call at Franciscan University came at a time when the nation is being swept with similar hoax calls at other universities. Incidents occurred at the University of Oklahoma on April 7 and the University of Pittsburgh on April 10.

Two similar calls were made from the Catholic University of America and Trinity University in Washington, D.C. on the same day as Franciscan’s hoax.

The fake calls’ origins are in question across the country. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has referred to the calls as “swatting,” which is when a 911 call is made alleging a false threat with the intent of stirring an unnecessary and large law enforcement response.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania State Police have called the calls “computer-generated,” according to CBS News Pittsburgh.

The case at Franciscan is under active investigation, so the police report on the incident has not been made available to the public.

Anyone with information can contact Erik Dervis, Director of Public Safety, at 740-283-6319 or [email protected] or Steubenville Police Department at 740-282-5353.