Hazleton man charged with shooting threats
It was a race against the clock for law enforcement in Hazleton on Saturday as they scrambled to collar a city man who they say threatened a mass shooting at two local schools, police Chief Jerry Speziale said.
It began Saturday morning when Mayor Jeff Cusat said he received a “very alarming and threatening” text message and ended later that day when police apprehended Christian Earl Diehl, 28, without incident, the mayor and police chief said.
The investigation continues, but police said the threat is mitigated.
It’s back to school as usual today for Hazleton Area students and staff, school district police Chief Ed Harry said.
“The threat is done with,” Harry said Sunday. “He’s locked up. It’s business as usual tomorrow.”
Cusat said that he received a copy of a “very alarming and threatening” text message on Saturday morning from a citizen whose daughter received it.
The message, according to police, threatened Arthur Street Elementary School and Hazleton Area High School with a mass shooting, pipe bombs and a possible diversion plan.
Cusat forwarded the message to Speziale and the Hazleton police command staff, who began forming a plan of action.
“It was alarming because it was very detailed,” Cusat said of the text. “It talked about a manifesto, a bomb threat to one school with the intention of being a diversion for an attack on another school.”
Police mobilized early Saturday and began investigating.
Luzerne County Communications Center was notified of the threat and its dispatch system updated should it receive a call for service or response at school facilities, police said. In Hazleton, patrol division supervisors briefed personnel of the threats and coordinated response and tactical plans to protect the public.
District Judge Matthew Christopher issued an arrest warrant for Diehl on a felony charge of threatening to use weapons of mass destruction, police said.
Diehl was identified as the originator of the threat, police said. He was spotted driving at Sixth and Church streets and arrested at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, police said. He was arraigned and jailed, Speziale said.
“We strategically planned where we would safely apprehend him,” Speziale said. “We didn’t want him getting into a house.”
Speziale said that a detective interviewed Diehl and that while police have “some other investigative steps” to take, they believe he acted alone.
The chief said it was key to apprehend the suspect before the weekend ended.
“Our concern, we didn’t want to get to Monday morning,” Speziale said. “We were fighting against the clock. My thing is, whether this [threat] is real or a hoax, think about the mass shootings around the nation. Do you think those people only wish that theirs was a hoax? It’s unacceptable. There’s no way you can put a community in fear — or a school in fear — not after what we’ve been through as a country.”