Pittsburgh police respond to swatting hoax at Tree of Life building
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AntisemitismOnline threat determined to be false

Pittsburgh police respond to swatting hoax at Tree of Life building

"This is a hoax and the police presence is an abundance of caution and not due to a real, credible threat,” Brokos said.

A view of the Tree of Life synagogue, which housed three congregations, New Light, Dor Hadash and Tree of Life, photographed Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Squirrel Hill. (Alexandra Wimley/Union Progress)
A view of the Tree of Life synagogue, which housed three congregations, New Light, Dor Hadash and Tree of Life, photographed Wednesday, April 19, 2023, in Squirrel Hill. (Alexandra Wimley/Union Progress)

Pittsburgh police responded to an online threat reported to 911 on the morning of Nov. 30, threatening to “shoot up” the Tree of Life building on Wilkins Avenue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, according to Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Community Security Director Shawn Brokos.

Law enforcement determined the call to be a hoax after responding and identifying it as coming from outside of Pennsylvania.

In an abundance of caution, Pittsburgh police have increased their presence around Jewish institutions and marked units will make spot checks throughout the day.

“We want to assure the community that this is a hoax and that the police presence is an abundance of caution and not due to a real, credible threat,” Brokos said.

Pittsburgh police, she said, worked very quickly to vet the threat as quickly as possible and to assure that all is safe.

The hoax came at a time when the city, and nation, are experiencing a heightened threat tempo due to Israel’s war with Hamas. Incidents of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism have been reported in Pittsburgh neighborhoods since Oct. 7, when Hamas entered Israel, killing more than 1,200 and kidnapping an estimated 240 individuals.

The Tree of Life building was the center of the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history on Oct. 27, 2018, when a gunman killed 11 congregants of Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation, and injured seven, including five Pittsburgh police officers.

Brokos urges anyone who sees anything suspicious to call 911 and report it to Federation at https://jewishpgh.org/form/incident-report. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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