FBI investigating threats against ‘multiple faith communities’ in Pennsylvania

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CNA Staff, Apr 19, 2024 / 12:30 pm

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating what it says have been multiple threats made against houses of worship, religious schools, and other institutions — including Catholic ones — in Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania local media had reported on the alleged threats made earlier in the week. An FBI spokesman told CNA on Thursday that the bureau “is aware of a number of threats made against multiple faith communities, houses of worship, and schools in Western Pennsylvania recently.”

Investigators have “no information at this time to indicate a specific and credible threat against any faith community, religious institution, or educational facility,” the bureau said.

Agents “continue to work with our law enforcement and community partners to mitigate any threat investigations when information comes to our attention,” the spokesman said.

Diocese increases security at schools amid threats

Wendell Hissrich, the director of safety and security at the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the western part of the state, told CNA that the diocese has increased security at several area schools in response to the threats. 

Hissrich, who served in the FBI for 25 years and previously worked as the safety director for the city of Pittsburgh, said that earlier in the week a diocesan elementary school had received “two simultaneous emails” that were “concerning in nature” via a contact form on the school’s website. 

“The staff notified the authorities and our officers,” Hissrich said. The diocese recently launched a new security protocol that includes armed officers being placed in diocesan schools.

“When the local authorities arrived, they indicated there was a similar incident at another school — not a Catholic school — south of ours,” Hissrich said. He spoke with the FBI who told him threats had been made “to not only the schools but other houses of worship.”

“We increased our security throughout all our diocesan schools” as a result, Hissrich said. 

The security director praised the diocese’s team of officers, who were hired last year and whom the diocese recently began to place in schools.

“The officers we have are all retired from local law enforcement or state police, with in excess of 20 years experience for each of them,” Hissrich said. “We’re very fortunate to have those officers.”

Hissrich said the threat against the school was “not specific” and ultimately “not credible,” though he said that “this time of year, there’s usually an upswing in threats.” 

“We’re prepared for that and we’re still prepared for it,” he said. 

Jewish institutions have also been targeted by threats this month. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh said in a statement last week that “several Jewish organizations throughout Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh,” had been “targeted with hoax bomb threats.”

The federation said it had launched a “Virtual Block Watch Program” that would allow citizens to “provide residential or business video surveillance footage to help prevent, deter, and possibly solve crimes.”

Hissrich confirmed that Jewish institutions in the area are being targeted.

“Our Jewish friends are receiving a lot of threats, especially with what’s happening in Israel,” he said.

The FBI, meanwhile, said it urged residents to “remain vigilant and to promptly report any suspicious individuals or activities to law enforcement immediately.”


Daniel Payne

Daniel Payne is a senior editor at Catholic News Agency. He previously worked at the College Fix and Just the News. He lives in Virginia with his family.

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