On Thursday, October 26, 2017, the Avonworth community received the following e-mail through Edline:
Dear Parents and Guardians,
The Avonworth School District is aware of a report of a wanted suspect from the state of Ohio potentially in the area recently. The Ohio Township Police Department, working with other law enforcement assistance, are following up on this information. Safety is our highest priority. The Ohio Township Police Department is in constant communication with the Avonworth School District and will be vigilant in the area during dismissal time. The Ohio Township Police are not recommending any changes to dismissal procedures and emphasize that parents and students will notice an increased police presence as a precaution. If parents become aware of anything unusual, please contact 911.
Dr. Thomas Ralston
This Thursday was an appalling day for many students. News spread like wildfire around the school, of a murderer in close proximity to our district. This murderer turned out to be Joshua Gurto, who had murdered and assaulted a 13-month old baby in Ohio.
Student reactions were varied. Many people had frightened reactions such as freshman, Joey Skillen: “I was scared, very scared, like I had butterflies in my stomach at first.” Carly Sphar, who is also a freshman, stated, “I was scared at first because I wasn’t sure where he was. So, all I heard was that he was in the area and that he was by a Sheetz…” Yet, a lot of students in the district expressed surprise at the fact that the killer was very close to home.
When asked what his initial reaction was, Jackson Southern (freshman) replied, “I’m surprised because I know that Ohio Township was ranked the 3rd safest community in the area here in Pittsburgh. Once I found out that he was from Ohio, it made a bit more sense. I was also a bit fearful since the woods he was hiding in, was pretty much near the woods behind my house and over to the right a little bit. So, it was very, very close to my house and neighborhood.”
Time magazine, one of many national news outlets covering the story, reported that “He had a knife, a tent and maps of Pennsylvania and New Jersey inside his backpack, according to Pete Elliott, U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Ohio.”
Another interviewee who showed revelation was Liana Simmons (freshman), “I was quite surprised to see how close it was to where the school district was and to where I live.” Multiple students mentioned that they heard this tragic news from rumors spreading through the building and texts from parents telling them to be careful on their way home. According to Danica Raich (freshman), the school called student’s homes informing them about the killer that was on the loose, “ the school called about like 40 times apparently. Well they didn’t call like 40 times, but they sent different messages out saying that there was a criminal on the loose….They called my home phone…”
As stated before, students were frightened to go home. Some were picked up by their parents at their bus stop like Carly Sphar, “My mom actually picked me up from the bus stop because she didn’t want me walking home.” But, other kids had sport related activities, so their parents picked them up from school anyway.
To add, many found the Ohio Township area to be safe even before this news spread. Liana Simmons says this about why the district is safe, “… it’s safe, I mean things have happened, but I know that it hasn’t affected me or people posting, so I think it’s pretty safe.” Carly Sphar also reinforces the idea of the community being safe, “Yeah, I would say it is fairly safe. We don’t have a lot of these often and when we do we take extra precautions. Some schools probably wouldn’t really mention it, but we had parents that could be working through the day make posts and like spread it to everyone.” All in all, the awareness that has spread through the district about this killer has affected many people. Yet, our district is known to be very safe, so this treacherous news shocked the Avonworth school and all of the students.