Man in custody after mall bomb scare

Published Apr 22, 2013 at 9:25 am (Updated Apr 22, 2013 at 11:08 am)

Bethel Park police have a suspect in custody after two shoppers at the Barnes and Noble bookstore at South Hills Village called to report a conversation that included the words “bomb” and “Boston” on the evening of April 21.

Chief John Mackey said 70-year-old Frank Zahler of Castle Shannon, is being questioned by police. Bethel Park officers had a noncriminal-type encounter with Zahler about a week ago, Mackey said.

Mackey said Zahler will likely face charges from the incident, but he would not say exactly what those charges would be.

The police chief said he was not sure of the exact content of the conversation the suspect had with the shoppers but that the exchange included talk of bombing and Boston and that it was enough to prompt the shoppers to call police.

“They did the right thing,” said Mackey. “It’s extremely important to remain vigilant.”

The call came in about 6:30 p.m., Mackey said. Police officers apprehended Zahler at the Red Robin restaurant, where he had walked after leaving the bookstore adjacent to the mall on Fort Couch Road.

Zahler was carrying two duffel bags and a briefcase, Mackey said.

The Allegheny County Bomb Squad examined all three parcels and determined that they contained no explosives.

By 8 p.m., police were allowing patrons back into the restaurant, the bookstore and the nearby Carmike 10 movie theater, all of which had been evacuated.

Most of the stores in the mall had closed at 6 p.m. and employees, whose cars were parked near the main entrance to the mall, were not allowed near their vehicles during the scare.

“They told us just to leave and wouldn’t let us near our cars,” said Mary Dibble.

“My car was within the ‘safe zone,’ but they kept moving the safe zone farther and farther away,” said Kat Buchwald.

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