Both branches of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo were evaculated Monday following a bomb threat to the Amherst. At the Delaware Avenue location, members were taken across the street to the American Red Cross while police investigated. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The bomb threat that forced the local Jewish Community Center to evacuate both its buildings, on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo and North Forest Road in Amherst, late Monday morning was part of a nationwide effort that saw at least 10 such centers targeted with similar threats, according to local and national officials.

Similar threats were reported Monday -- on Presidents Day --  in Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Tampa, Nashville, Birmingham, Albuquerque, St. Paul, Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay, Wis., according to media reports and local Jewish Community Center officials.

Both local community centers were evacuated immediately following the threat phoned in to the Amherst facility. Law-enforcement officials searched both buildings, nothing was found, and both centers reopened within 2 1/2 hours.

The bomb threat was made at about 11:15 a.m., according to Amherst Assistant Police Chief Charles Cohen. Everyone in the building was evacuated to a nearby location, and the all-clear alert was sounded around 12:45 p.m.

"The NFTA dog helped us with a sweep," Cohen said. "Areas where we couldn't get a dog in were visually checked by officers and staff."

In Buffalo, evacuees were taken to a nearby Delaware Avenue building. After Buffalo police investigated, the facility reopened by 1:30 p.m., according to witnesses on the scene.

"They accomplished what they wanted," local JCC Executive Director Richard A. Zakalik said of the people coordinating the threats. "The whole point was to scare and disrupt. Nevertheless, we take it very seriously, and we follow the procedures and protocols that are in place.

Zakalik thanked County Executive Mark Poloncarz, the State Police and other law-enforcement agencies that have reached out to help establish those procedures. And in a written statement to JCC members, Zakalik also praised his staff's professional actions and the members' cooperation in evacuating so quickly.

Monday's bomb threats are nothing new. In all, 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January, according to an association of Jewish community centers across the nation. Those threats now have continued with a flourish this month.

 

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