Police targeted in ‘swatting’ calls

September 4, 2014
Police vehicles sit outside the McDonald municipal building. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Two police departments in Washington County were targeted by prank callers in a “swatting” scheme that tricks emergency responders into answering a bogus report of a serious emergency.

McDonald police received a report Sunday from a hysterical caller who claimed he shot his mother and still had the weapon. Last month, North Strabane Township police responded to a home in the Meadowbrook plan for a report of a suicidal man with a bomb on the second floor of a home.

Callers use technology to make it appear the emergency call is coming from the alleged victim’s home. McDonald police Officer Brad Resnik, one of the officers who responded to Sunday’s incident, said it also can be done by players involved in an interactive game on Twitter, which may have been the case in that incident.

An article on the FBI’s website indicates the agency first warned law enforcement of the activity in 2008. Since then, the FBI said it arrested numerous people stemming from swatting incidents although most are now handled by local and state law enforcement agencies.

A call came into the McDonald police station just after 9 p.m. from a caller who claimed his house was on fire and his family was dying. He then called police a derogatory name. A few minutes later, a hysterical man called to report he was in a fight with his mother over money, shot her in the chest with a rifle and was watching her bleed to death. He also said he wanted to kill himself. The caller said he would shoot any police officer who came to his home.

Police determined the residence was in North Fayette Township. North Fayette police, along with McDonald and Cecil Township officers, responded and formulated a plan for approaching the house.

Resnik knew the son of the man who allegedly placed the frantic call. The son instructed his father to come out of the home. The father was ordered to come down the driveway with his hands in the air. He was detained while police searched the home as a precaution to make sure everything was OK. Police also verified the man’s mother was fine.

“This is very dangerous,” Resnik said. “Someone could get seriously hurt.”

In the North Strabane incident Aug. 22, police were told to call the 911 center for a priority dispatch after the Veterans Crisis Center received a call from a man claiming to be a war veteran with an improvised explosive device. There also allegedly were three children in the home whom he reportedly planned to poison.

Police met to formulate a plan, and the commander of the Washington Regional SWAT unit was alerted.

Police were able to contact one of the residents of the home where the call allegedly originated. The resident was leery she was actually talking to a North Strabane police officer since the call was placed on a department cellphone. He encouraged her to call 911 to verify he was in fact an officer. She was on with a 911 dispatcher when police arrived and was asked to step out and meet with the officer.

After meeting with the resident and checking the home, police confirmed it was a bogus call. Police were told by representatives of the crisis center they had received several other hoax calls.

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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