PITTSFIELD — City police suspect a bomb threat hoax called in from a Hubbard Avenue pay phone Thursday afternoon may be tied to an armed robbery on Dawes Avenue about 20 minutes later.
The Pittsfield Police Department's communication center received the 911 call from the pay phone outside the Wal-Mart on Hubbard Avenue just before 2 p.m., according to Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn. The caller was difficult to understand and the voice may have been somehow electronically altered, he said.
At 2:06 p.m., Pittsfield Police received a report of armed robbery at Dawes Avenue Variety at 19 Dawes Ave. Based on their investigation, police believe the bomb threat may be somehow connected to the robbery — at least the seventh in the city since Nov. 23 — but they did not elaborate.
The call was recorded and reviewed. The caller listed 15 different targets across five different jurisdictions, Wynn said.
Wynn did not disclose the specific locations but said they included "schools, government facilities and other critical infrastructure locations."
Once the list was deciphered, Pittsfield Police notified the other towns mentioned in the message and dispatched officers to the Wal-Mart.
Wynn said the caller left a specific time deadline on the message and stated they would call back after that time had passed.
"Due to the difficulty in deciphering the original communication, the number of listed locations, and the number of notifications, the initial response was lengthy," Wynn said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "Responding personnel quickly determined that during the initial response, the stated deadline has passed without incident."
With no follow-up call made and the deadline having passed, investigators determined the threat was "less than credible."
"At this point, no additional information on the listed target locations or the call is being released, pending outcome of the ongoing investigation," Wynn said.
While Wynn did not disclose the full list of targets, the threat did disrupt schools in Lenox, Lanesborough, Dalton and Cheshire and post offices in Lenox and Cheshire. Lenox Memorial Middle and High School called for an early dismissal, but not a full evacuation.
Morris Elementary School in Lenox was not evacuated nor dismissed early because it was not among the listed targets and, based on advice from police, the school day there went on as scheduled, with officers on hand during dismissal as "a reassuring presence," according to a letter to parents from Principal Carolyn Boyce.
"Bomb threats are certainly not unique to the town of Lenox and in almost all cases they turn out to be empty threats, however, we have to take such threats seriously and take appropriate action to keep our kids safe," part of Boyce's letter read. "We have a plan in place at Morris should we ever experience this situation or other emergency situations and are ready to act on that plan on a moment's notice if necessary."
In Dalton, Wahconah Regional High and Craneville Elementary schools were also affected, but were not evacuated and had normal dismissal, according to Dalton Police Chief Jeffrey Coe. Lanesborough Elementary School also was the target of a threat, but no evacuation was ordered there, either.
"The Lanesborough Fire Department came to the school immediately and informed the principal that it was not a credible threat," said Mount Greylock Regional School District Superintendent Doug Dias, "but they went through the school and conducted a search for anything out of the ordinary."
An FBI spokeswoman said Friday the bureau was not involved in the investigation. Fred Lantz, spokesman for the Berkshire District Attorney's office, said as of Friday afternoon, his office was also not involved in the investigation.
Anyone with information related to either incident is encouraged to contact the Pittsfield Police Department Detective Bureau at 413-448-9705. Detectives are particularly interested in any witnesses who may have observed anyone on the pay phone located at Wal-Mart between 1:30 and 2 p.m. on Thursday.