On Monday afternoon, Maplewood police received a frightening phone call that led them running to the house of a couple and their young kid, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
According to Police Chief James DeVaul, about 3:40 p.m. on Monday, someone called the police non-emergency line and said, “My father just shot my mother in the face” and supplied a street address. After that, the caller hung up.
Patrols circled the house and used the vehicle’s public address system to address the residents. The residents of the house were instructed to leave by the police. A couple and their small daughter were among the occupants.
“They were really taken aback by the call,” DeVaul added.
The residence was searched, but no proof of a crime was discovered.
A Nixle notice had also been sent out to households to warn them of the potential threat. When the call was confirmed to be false, it was updated.
The call is being investigated by detectives.
“These are incredibly severe and hazardous calls,” DeVaul added. “It might have easily escalated into resistance, escalation, a use-of-force event, and great tension and worry for everyone concerned.”
He said, “I feel a tremendous deal of sympathy and pity for the inhabitants, who must have been terrified. MFD and EMS were sent and stationed near the area until the situation was stabilized. The inhabitants did not make any demands for medical help at the time.”
“I want to praise my officers for doing an absolutely excellent job in the face of such danger and for being able to de-escalate when the situation and incident specifics required,” he added.
These sorts of “Swatting” calls have previously been reported in the region. Someone contacted Westfield police last October and stated he “shot his father and tied up his mother in the bathtub” and supplied a Springfield location. Police hurried to the address, but found nothing.
“The action or practice of placing a hoax call to emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers,” according to the Oxford definition.
However, this sort of prank might have catastrophic effects, such as causing an accident or tying up staff who might be required for another emergency.
Making a bogus 911 call is also illegal, according to the FBI’s Swatting website. In 2008, they claim to have discovered the “phone hacking epidemic.”
A 19-year-old hacker was sentenced to more than 11 years in jail in 2009, according to the FBI, for making many “swatting” calls.
According to federal prison records, the individual was freed nine years later in October 2018.