Prank Call Leads to Texas SWAT Team Response

File photo of a member of the SWAT team motioning to a resident to come out of the house as they conduct a house to house search for Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the one remaining suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, in Watertown
Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

A prank call to police resulted in a SWAT team response in East Texas on Saturday, April 11. Police received what was perceived to be an emergency call at 4:09 pm about a possible shooting in the Jefferson County City of Port Neches.

A male caller placed a very credible sounding phone call in which he stated he had just shot his mother and she was not breathing, according to a KFDM-6 report. The caller also said that he had strapped a bomb to his 21-year-old daughter and was “in possession of a fully loaded AR-15 assault rifle.”

The call was placed on a non-emergency line in which the caller gave his phone number and address to the dispatcher on duty.The phone number and caller ID did not match. The report was taken at face value and officers were dispatched to the site of where the phone call appeared to have originated on the 2400 block of Saba Lane. Law enforcement set up a safety zone away from the residence in question followed by repeated attempts to recontact the caller. They were unsuccessful.

Jefferson County SWAT teams arrived to assist officers and provide additional resources while attempts to connect with the residents inside the home continued to fail. SWAT officers resorted to approaching the venue in an armored vehicle, using a loud speaker to reach the subject inside. Finally, a male exited the premises and was taken into custody without incident.

A search of the home by officers revealed that no shooting took place. There were no weapons located inside the home nor was anyone else present. The man was interviewed by investigators and released with no charges filed. Officials are continuing to identify the source of the original internet-based phone call that was determined to be a crank call.

This kind of phony phone call is called “swatting” or caller ID “spoofing” and it is a far cry from the practical jokes of yesteryear when when neighborhood kids would call and ask if the refrigerator was running. This is a federal crime. In swatting, a false emergency call is placed using a fake phone number. The intent is to get a mass response by first responders (i.e., police and SWAT teams) in a critical situation. In a swatting case, that emergency does not exist.

In the Port Neches incident, the call did not come through over a 9-1-1 line. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), fake 9-1-1 calls that elicit SWAT team responses have serious consequences. Most swatting cases are handled by local and state law enforcement agencies but the FBI supports their efforts in these investigations.

In 2009, then 18-year-old Matthew Weigman was sentenced to over 11 years in federal prison for a swatting conspiracy that was on-going for years, according to the US Department of Justice. He pleaded guilty to charges of computer intrusion and witness intimidation. In January, a 34-year-old Nebraska man was sentenced to five years in federal prison for his role in a swatting ring.

A newer trend has emerged in the virtual gaming community, resulting in vulnerable gamers being increasingly targeted by swatters. Thousands of gamers livestream, some for fun and others for profit. Often, online rivalries and grievances turn toxic through swatting. The New York Times reported that, although the FBI had no statistics, last year gaming news sites reported more than a dozen incidences of this kind of swatting.

In 2013, Kevin Kolybe, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI Dallas Division, emphasized that the Bureau looks at these crimes as a public safety issue. “It’s only a matter of time before somebody gets seriously injured as a result of one of these incidents,” he said.

“The FBI takes swatting very seriously,” Kolbye added. “Working closely with industry and law enforcement partners, we continue to refine our technological capabilities and our investigative techniques to stop the thoughtless individuals who commit these crimes. The bottom line,” he underscored, “is that swatting puts innocent people at risk.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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