A dangerous trend has been making its way through Connecticut, leaving its victims angry and looking for answers when police show up at their door because of fake 911 calls. Now, we could soon see new measures to stop what’s called “swatting.”
All it takes is a phone call to get the bulk of a police department, guns in hand to someone else’s home. It ties up police resources, it’s expensive and it’s dangerous.
A typical suburban home in Stamford was anything but, when police moved in, terrifying the people who live there.
“There was an officer standing up here with an AR-15 or whatever guns they use,” said Guy Magnuson, the home owner. “There was another with a rifle and a scope over here. There were three cops standing right over here.”
What caused that to happen? A 911 call.
“And what did you do to your dad?” said a police dispatcher.
“I got a Glock-17 from his safe and I shot him and my mom,” said the person who made the call. “I have my neighbors in the back yard.”
“So you shot your mom? What about your dad? Where is he,” continues the dispatcher asking more questions to prepare Stamford Police for a possibly deadly situation.
“He is not breathing,” said the caller.
Shortly after the call, guns, tasers and police tactical gear both confused and scared this family who had no idea what was going on.
"When I came walking from the back yard to the front yard, I had three red dots on my chest, just like in the movies these guys are targeting me,” said Magnuson pointing at his chest area.
After police did a search of the home and determined nothing had happened there, they left. But, they left Magnuson with unanswered questions. Who had done this and why?
“Whoever made the call has all our information. They know where we live. They have our phone number. They know we have a son,” said Magnuson.
He also added the Stamford police suspected it was his son who made the call but vehemently denies it. In the end, police had no proof of where the call originated, because the caller was able to block his phone number. In the police report, the detective said he didn’t know who had done it.
The Magnusons were “swatted." Many people have never even heard of it, like a Willimantic man, until he found out first-hand, last April.
“Calls came into Willimantic police dispatch from a male who was hysterical on the phone, reporting that he had just shot a family member and that he was in the residence with that family member and he was not coming out,” said Corporal Stan Parizo, Commander of the Willimantic Swat Team.
While swat surrounded the Bailey house, the unsuspecting family inside was shocked when police contacted them.
“They were taken out of their home,” said Parizo. “It was pouring rain storm.”
The father, William Bailey said he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of the time he spent in the military, and the sight of the swat team brought back dangerously bad memories.
“Last time I saw something like that, people were shooting at me. What was I supposed to think in my state of mind?” said Bailey.
Stunned, he only had a matter of minutes to make a tough decision.
“Should I just kick the door shut and run downstairs and arm myself?”
Bailey said he decided to surrender.
“They handcuffed me and I kept asking them what was going on,” said Bailey. “They didn’t tell me anything.
He would eventually learn that the “swatting” incident was brought on by an argument between teens.
“A 14-year-old that had a disagreement with my son. Had apparently paid somebody online I guess,” said Bailey.
“A $30 transaction was made to this gentleman in Great Britain. So he would call the Willimantic police department with all of the particulars of this house,” said Parizo, confirming Bailey’s suspicion.
Just like the Stamford incident, Willimantic police couldn’t use caller ID to find a suspect, but they did track him down quickly. Because, he was standing right in front of them, watching it all unfold.
“A young man that was in the area during this driving rain was detained…. that seems to be the MO of the caller now,” said Parizo. “He wants to see this response for swat going to your house.”
But once swatters are caught, what happens next? Many of them are juveniles.
If one Connecticut lawmaker has his way, people convicted of “swatting” will face harsh penalties that could end up costing them a whole lot of money.
“Well for anyone that does make a fake a call has to cover the entire cost to the town or emergency services of the incident,” said Senator Art Linares (R) of Colchester. A swatting incident also occurred there.
Linares says that can range from $10,000 to as much as $25,000.
He hopes to get a new bill passed this legislative session to make that happen. But, the harsh penalties when the pranksters are caught won’t help in every case.
Just like Stamford, the Avon Police Department hasn’t had success in catching their swatter from December. And officers suspected something was suspicious from the start.
Dispatch received a phone call from a man claiming two black males carrying weapons were in his basement. However, the caller got information about the homeowner wrong which made police suspect the call might be a hoax.
“With that being in mind though we still responded as though it was an active situation,” said Lt. Kelly Walsh, one of 10 officers who responded to the incident.
They searched the home and determined it was indeed a hoax.
So why is it so hard to catch some swatters? Cyber expert Scott Driscoll explains, “You can make your number appear to be any number you want and that is the scary part.”
Technology that either hides your caller ID completely or makes it appear as someone else’s is how the man all the way in Great Britain was able to make the 9-11 call to Willimantic police seem local.
“Where we have lost control is we are sharing so much of our identity and we are sharing it with thousands of strangers in the blink of an eye because of the gaming world,” said Driscoll.
Many swatting incidents are connected to gaming. Driscoll also says your IP address is the beginning of swatters finding out where you are if they don’t already know you personally. But police are still having a hard time finding them.
Stamford, Avon, and other police departments tell us they want to catch swatters but often don’t have the technology to do it. The FBI told me they do get involved in some cases to help.