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Police: Ohio man charged in hoax also threatened Jeannette H.S.
Schools in North Huntingdon Twp. and Jeannette were locked-down and some students were sent home early on Tuesday after police received what they regarded as credible threats of violence.
Police allege that a man from the Dayton, Ohio, area made the threats, apparently to create a diversion as he robbed a bank in the Circleville area of the township.
No injuries were reported, but Clay Pike and Robbins Station Road were closed for several hours while the investigation took place.
Police said the suspect, Luke J. Dell, 35, of Beavercreek, Ohio, was taken into custody before he got to the bank. Dell is being held without bond in the Westmoreland County Prison pending a preliminary hearing Nov. 6, court officials said.
According to North Huntingdon police, just after the breakfast rush, a man wearing a mask walked into the Bob Evans Restaurant on Route 30 near the Irwin exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and laid a note on the counter that said a shooting was going to take place, and bombs were going to go off, at Norwin High School and Jeannette High School.
In a press release, township police said they were able to obtain a surveillance photo of the man who passed the note and a black Dodge Charger that he was driving.
Police traced the license plate and determined it belonged on a car registered to someone who lives on Robbins Station Road in the township. Officers went to the home and found the license plate had been stolen from the car parked there.
Just after 10 a.m., a township police officer spotted the black Dodge with the stolen license plate, not far from the home on Robbins Station Road, and stopped it, police said.
The driver, who was identified by police as Dell, was wearing the mask seen in the photo from the Bob Evans incident, police said.
According to township police, Dell told officers he was headed to the Circleville area of North Huntingdon to attempt a bank robbery.
Norwin School Superintendent Jeff Taylor said the district was alerted by North Huntingdon police about 15 minutes after the note was passed at Bob Evans.
The threat was specific to Jeannette High School and Norwin High School, Taylor said. Norwin immediately enacted its emergency response plan and locked down all of its buildings, starting with the high school, he said.
Once the suspect was in custody, the modified lockdown was lifted, Taylor said. However, high school students and employees were dismissed early so that bomb-detection dogs could search the building, he said.
Nothing of a threatening nature was found and the high school resumed normal operations Tuesday afternoon, Taylor said. All previously scheduled afterschool activities are being held as usual, he said.
North Huntingdon police said a bomb detection dog did alert on the car Dell was driving, so a state police expert was called in to check the vehicle. No explosives were found, township police said.
Jeannette High School also was locked down and dismissed early, district superintendent Matthew Jones said, but no threats were found.
Ironically, Jeannette School District was scheduled to have a "critical incident" emergency drill on Wednesday (Oct. 22). That drill has been postponed, Jones said.
Jeannette's McKee Elementary School remained in session, but with an increased police presence, he said.
Dell was charged by North Huntingdon police with making terroristic threats, calling in a bomb threat, theft by unlawful taking and possession of instruments of crime. He was arraigned Tuesday afternoon before Magisterial District Judge Wayne Gongaware in North Huntingdon.
North Huntingdon and Jeannette police responded to the scene along with Irwin police, Westmoreland County sheriff's deputies and park police, Allegheny County police, Middlesex Twp. police, Westmoreland County emergency management, Circleville volunteer firefighters and North Huntingdon EMS.
Taylor thanked all of the agencies for their response, singling out North Huntingdon police Chief Robert Rizzo in particular, along with Circleville firefighters and township EMS.
"The ongoing communication with these representatives provided the district with immediate updates, which helped us to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff," he said, and thanked Norwin students, staff and families for their "patience during this incident."
Originally published October 22, 2019.