The call to the Flagler County Sheriff’s non-emergency line sounded tragic, if unreal: a teenager’s mother had come into his room for no reason, and he’d shot her in the head with a shotgun. It was 1:30 Sunday afternoon. The caller said he didn’t know the shotgun was loaded.
Dispatchers put Flagler County fire flight, the emergency helicopter, on standby.
The caller told the dispatcher that he got mad at her because she’d turned off his computer for no reason. He described his mother as “bleeding really badly,” that her body was turning white.
Before hanging up, the caller gave the address as being on Cooper Lane in Palm Coast. Dispatchers tried calling him back. They were not successful. Meanwhile a fleet of sheriff’s deputy units and firefighters was dispatched to the Cooper Court address and dispatchers coordinated with Fire Flight and the Palm Coast Fire Police, which had also been dispatched to the scene, where the helicopter could land, noting the golf course near the residence.
The dispatchers were not able to find any way to reconnect with the caller.
At 1:50 p.m., deputies made contact with a resident at the Cooper Lane address. He had no idea what was going on, until it dawned on him–and everyone else: the resident was being “swatted”–pranked. As the sheriff’s office described it in a release today, “Swatting calls are prank calls used to trigger an emergency law enforcement response against a target victim under false pretenses. Swatters do this by making phone calls to emergency lines like 9-1-1 and falsely reporting a violent emergency situation such as a shooting or hostage situation.”
Such calls are wastefully expensive and misdirect a large number of resources to fake incidents while more real incidents could be unfolding.
The calls are also dangerous and can be deadly.
On Dec. 28, 2017, Tyler Rai Barriss, 24 years old at the time, called police to report that 28-year-old Andrew Finch was holding a hostage at gunpoint at a specific address in Wichita, Kansas. Police surrounded the house, guns drawn. Finch had no idea what was going on. He went to the door, opened it, and was shot dead. Barriss in March 2019 was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the prank. A few months later Casey S. Viner, 19, a gamer who played a role in the same swatting, got 15 months in prison. They’d been playing “Call of Duty: WWII,” had an argument, and to settle it, the swatting call was made. The victim was not even involved in the argument.
The C-Section swatting call was the third in less than three months in Palm Coast.
On May 26, sheriff’s units were dispatched to an address on Bellaire Drive after the Suicide Hotline contacted the Communication Center to report a call to the hotline from a suicidal individual claiming to have several firearms. Deputies made contact with occupants of the home, who reported that a male on “House Party,” a social media app, threatened to “SWAT” an occupant of the home after she refused to speak with him. (The sent her messages stating he was “selling her on the darkweb,” and showed a picture of his interpretation of a “black market list,” with the victim’s name on it, according to a sheriff’s report.) Earlier in the day, the same man had pizzas delivered to the home, which residents did not order.
On July 10, the dispatch center got a report of a shooting on Folcroft Lane that sounded similar to last Sunday’s call–a man reporting that he was in an argument with his mother, and that he’d shot her. Twenty minutes before that call, a deputy had responded to the house after a caller who claimed he was walking his dog had reported hearing two shots and a woman’s scream, though no activity was detected when the deputy investigated. With the second call, several units responded and set up a perimeter around the house, with medical units nearby. But as with the Sunday call, the caller had disconnected and could not be reached again.
Eventually deputies made entry into the house, “Nobody was found in the residence, and there were no signs of any suspicious activity. The home was very neat, clean, and organized.”
On Sunday, getting to the bottom of the prank was more traumatic for those who had not chosen to be involved in it, with homes searched, a mother and her children told to come out of a house with nothing in their hands, and numerous law enforcement units on a heightened emergency footing until more than an hour after the prank call was made, according to 911 notes.
The caller, as in the previous cases, had ensured that he couldn’t be traced.
“Sometimes swatting calls are made to retaliate against someone for whatever reason and sometimes they are completely random. We have seen both recently in Palm Coast,” Sheriff Rick Staly said. “Unfortunately the types of calls are so serious that a large police response is required and there is no way for deputies or first responders to know that the call is fake until an investigation is completed. In the meantime, resources are diverted from other calls for service while they investigate a call that turns out to be a prank. It’s not funny and it is illegal and dangerous.”
If the person responsible for initiating the calls is identified, he or she can face charges including filing a false police report. Anyone with information regarding these calls or similar swatting calls in Flagler County should call the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office at 386/313-4911 or email [email protected]. To remain anonymous, call Crimestoppers at 1-888-277-TIPS (8477). You could be eligible for a reward up to $5,000.