STOW — When every available police officer was suddenly dispatched to a Charring Cross Drive home during the evening June 4, they had reason to believe the call might involve murder, a hostage situation and perhaps even bombs.
Except it was not true and now the police are helping the FBI with an investigation of a hoax phone call to the police in an apparent scheme to get the home’s residents killed. Law enforcement calls these kinds of calls "swatting."
FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson, spokeswoman in the FBI’s Cleveland office, confirmed Wednesday that the matter is under investigation, but that no additional information would be released.
Police Chief Jeff Film, also on Wednesday, said a Stow police detective is working with the FBI on the investigation involving two possible out-of-state suspects.
"We believe one may even be outside the country at this point," said Film, adding he could not say more about the investigation.
According to a police report, at about 10:40 p.m., police received a phone call supposedly from the homeowners’ adult son claiming he had shot and killed his mother and had his father tied up in a bathroom with plans to shoot him and then himself. The man also claimed he had planted pipe bombs at the home’s front and back doors and he would kill any responding officers.
The report said that all shift officers, plus an incoming shift officer were dispatched to the home. Film said the department does not disclose how many officers are on each shift, but this would have been between six to 10 officers responding.
The first indication that the situation may not be as reported came when a police dispatcher was able to contact the mother before police arrived and she said she and her husband were OK and had been in bed, says the report. When police arrived, they quickly determined that there was no emergency.
The mother told police that they had been having an ongoing issue with people who had been trying to get her son’s username for an Instagram account and the FBI was already involved in an investigation. The son no longer lived in the home and was not involved in the incident, says the report.
Police then called the number that the call had been made from and spoke to a man with a heavy accent who said he lives in South Africa. The man said he wanted the Instagram account information, hoped that the son’s parents were scared and that he is a suspect in numerous similar incidents around the country. Police said the call then began to go nowhere and it ended.
The man then called police dispatch and repeated that he wanted the son’s Instagram account information.
"He then stated his end goal is to get his parents killed," says the report.
The man called dispatch again and threatened to call 80 times throughout the night to overload the dispatch center’s ability to take calls, but he did not call again.
Police then contacted the FBI.
Film said that apparently social media usernames can have value.
"People are willing to spend a large amount of money for those usernames," said Film. "Frankly, that does not make sense to me, but that’s what we’re working with."
According to the FBI, swatting has been an issue around the country since at least the early 2000s and has at times caused injury when the police, even SWAT teams, suddenly show up at someone’s home wrongly believing there is a dangerous situation.
In one stark example, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas, an Ohio man and another man were sentenced to 15 months and 20 years respectively in federal prison last year after they pleaded guilty in connection with a swatting incident that resulted in the death of a Wichita man.
Both convicted men were online gamers and after the Ohio man got into a dispute with a third gamer, he asked the other man to swat him by calling police and claiming he shot his father and was holding other family members hostage. Unfortunately, they had the wrong address for the third man and when Andrew Finch, a resident of the home, walked out onto the porch without knowing why the police were there, he apparently made a move that startled the police and was shot.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.