Jewish Community Centers in Harrisburg, York evacuated after bomb threats

HARRISBURG and YORK, Pa. -- Bomb threats received over the phone at the Jewish Community Centers in Harrisburg and York were among 19 phoned-in bomb threats to JCCs across the country on Monday.

Both locations evacuated their respective buildings immediately and law enforcement was contacted.

Members were allowed to go back inside each complex after police performed a sweep of the building with 'K-9' units.

It is unclear if the bomb threats at Harrisburg and York were connected to each other, or any of the other bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers across the country, according to Harrisburg police.

"We're still conducting an investigation involving this incident. Now we're looking to see where the call came from," said police Captain Gabe Olivera.

The bomb threat at the Harrisburg JCC occurred at 10:11 a.m., Olivera said. The phone call was not recorded. He said police will work with the phone company to try and determine where the call came from.

Around 200 people were evacuated from the Harrisburg JCC campus, said Jenn Ross, President of the Harrisburg Jewish Federation. Many were students from The Silver Academy day school. Daycare workers rolled babies out of the building in cribs while some adults were in gym clothes.

No one was hurt, Ross said, and children were in good spirits.

"Everyone was well when I checked on the children with their teachers," Ross added. "They were treating it like a normal day just in a different location."

Everyone was taken next door to the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC complex.

Monday's bomb threat was the first received by the Harrisburg Jewish Community Center, and for them and York, the most recent in a string of anti-Semitic acts across the country. Two weeks ago, swastikas were painted outside Shippensburg High School. Another swastika was drawn in chalk on a driveway of a home in Lower Paxton Township in Dauphin County. Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized in St. Louis and over the weekend in Philadelphia. On Monday, 19 Jewish Community Centers received bomb threats.

"By this point, we were basically expecting to get a call," Ross said. "We are always trained and prepared to deal with a situation like this. It doesn't make it any less upsetting. It's disruptive. Not only to the Jewish community but the entire community because we serve the interfaith population. So, whoever is doing this is really impacting everyone in our community."

The York JCC released a statement on its Facebook page Monday afternoon concerning the bomb threats.

“This morning, February 27, we received a bomb threat by telephone at the front desk of the York JCC. We were one of multiple JCCs on the east coast that have received threats today.

Once the threat was received, we immediately followed our safety and security evacuation protocols and coordinated with York County law enforcement.

Emergency responders conducted an extensive sweep of the building, and declared our JCC safe for normal operations to resume. Law enforcement and our security consultants believe that these threats appear similar to the “hoax” threats that JCCs have received over the last two months.

We are working closely with Governor Wolf, our local Congressional representatives, the Justice Department, and the FBI to intensify the efforts to address these threats. It is imperative that immediate steps be taken to respond to the situation and identify and prosecute the perpetrators, so that we can stop future acts of intimidation.

We will continue our communications to keep you fully apprised of the evolving situation. As a community, we must continue to work together to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Governor Tom Wolf released a statement concerning the bomb threats and Philadelphia cemetery vandalism. It read: "Any anti-Semitic act or act of intimidation aimed at Jewish institutions and people in Pennsylvania is truly reprehensible and we must find those responsible and hold them accountable. This is not who we are as Americans or Pennsylvanians. We will not take these threats and acts lightly and I have asked the Pennsylvania State Police and Office of Homeland Security to offer their full resources towards protecting these institutions and finding those responsible.”