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More than 600 calls went out saying Middletown students were not in school; issue fixed, officials say

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A Middletown Area School District automated phone system sent out a call to more than 630 recipients Thursday saying that their child was absent from school.

The issue was isolated to the middle school, said Jody Zorbaugh, communications specialist for the district. She said the cause was identified and fixed, although the district is not sure it was a system error or a user error. 

"Tomorrow morning before the daily message goes out the system is going to be checked to make sure it hasn't changed," Zorbaugh said.

There are about 535 students at the school. The rest of the 631 calls went to staff.

Employees received the same message as parents, she said.

“Which is what made us aware of the problem because MAMS staff who got the call and don’t have children at MAMS knew they had received the message in error,” Zorbaugh said via email.

Phone service at the middle school was down in the morning but was back in service around lunchtime after parents stopped calling.

Several parents posted comments on the Press And Journal Facebook page.

“My daughter walks to the bus stop, so once I got that call you can only imagine where my mind went. I'm definitely glad it was a glitch,” said one.

“I went crazy panic, a coworker had to drive me, I was on way to the school in tears, cause i could not get through then they tell parents do not panic,” said another.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2017 13:32

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Middletown Area School District experiencing phone issues

Middletown Area School District is experiencing systemwide phone problems that are sending phone calls to all employees and parents informing them that their students are absent from school today, Jan. 12.

There is also no phone service at Middletown Area Middle School.

The district is working to address these issues as quickly as possible. Parents are asked not to call the middle school so phone lines can remain open.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2017 11:04

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Report of homemade explosive devices in Lower Swatara leads to man being taken into custody; no charges filed

Fulling Mill Road between Eisenhower Boulevard and Longview Drive in Lower Swatara Township was closed for a period Wednesday while township police were investigating a report of explosive devices in a residence in the township.

No one has been charged, but township police took into custody an unidentified man who was located in the 2900 block of Fulling Mill Road with “possible homemade devices” seen in his clothing, according to a press release issued by township police at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

After the devices were safely removed from the man, the suspect was taken by police to Harrisburg Hospital for a mental health evaluation, police said. Police are not identifying the man because no charges have been filed. Police also did not provide any information regarding where the residence is located in the township.

The initial report was of homemade explosive devices being left in the residence by the man. An alert was put out throughout Dauphin County to try and find the man, whom police said was located within an hour of the initial dispatch.

Township police were assisted by an explosive ordinance unit from Pennsylvania State Police that responded and removed the devices from the man. The state police unit also assisted in making sure that the residence was safe. Swatara Township police also assisted in the investigation.

The case remains an active investigation, township police said. Anyone with information is asked to call Lower Swatara police via Dauphin County Control at 717-558-6900. Or you can call Dauphin County Crime Stoppers at 800-262-3080, or go to their website at and click on the “submit a tip” link.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 January 2017 09:39

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$12,000 stolen during 2 burglaries at Eisenhower Boulevard restaurant

Angie’s Diner and Lounge on Eisenhower Boulevard recently was burglarized for a second time in two months, with more than $12,000 taken combined in the incidents.

The most recent burglary is believed to have taken place at the 1360 Eisenhower Blvd. business during the early morning hours of Jan. 2. Police report that about $6,200 was stolen. Investigators are assessing surveillance evidence gathered from inside the business. Police have not yet released details about the crime.

The business also was burglarized during the early morning hours of Oct. 23, and $6,300 was reported stolen.

Police said no evidence of forced entry was found in either incident.

Investigators ask anyone with information to call them at 717-939-0463.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 January 2017 16:49

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North Philadelphia woman charged with lottery threats because she wasn't winning

The Lower Swatara Township Police Department recently charged Towanda A. Shields, 47, of the 1800 block of North 25th Street in Philadelphia after an investigation found that she repeatedly made death threats and harassed employees at the Pennsylvania Lottery Headquarters, authorities say.

The harassment and threats took place from April 2016 through December 2016 and were made through phone calls and voicemails. She is charged with three counts of terroristic threats, 25 counts of harassment and 25 counts of stalking. There is an active arrest warrant for Shields, and Lower Swatara police are working with Philadelphia police to get her into custody to answer to the charges.

shields towandaTowanda A. Shields


Detective Robert Appleby of the Lower Swatara Police Department told the Press And Journal that the calls resulted in profanity-laced messages that threatened employees because she was not winning its games.

The caller, now identified as Shields, complained that she was playing “hard” but failing to win. The caller said she was extremely mad her numbers hit on the days she didn’t play them, and that the lottery is doing it on purpose, Appleby told the Press And Journal in the fall. The caller wants their money back or some scratch-off tickets, he said.

Lottery officials notified police on Oct. 21. Lottery officials became concerned when the caller ramped up the calls and threatened the lives of employees, police said.

There were 21 voicemails.

“She would say things in her messages that gave us clues about her possible location, specifically in Philadelphia,” he said.

Threats became  specific in October.

“She said on Halloween, people were going to die at lottery retailers in Philly,” Appleby said, even going as far as saying that she paid guys $500 each to hurt people because they are broke and don’t care and will do anything for money.

“The specificity of her threats became more and more concerning,” he said, including telling one employee that she was looking at his Facebook page.

Appleby said he did not want to reveal specifically how she was identified, but once police tracked down a name of a suspect, it was linked to a lottery VIP account that Shields created in 2015. A phone number she used on the account was the same one used to make some of the threatening calls.

“It’s circumstantial but it’s pretty potent,” he said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 January 2017 16:46

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