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Swatting in Hays

Last week, the Hays Police Department and the Ellis County Sheriff's Office were exposed to a first in this area. The law enforcement personnel, like the residents of a home on Pine Street, were victims of a "swatting" incident.

A 9-1-1 call that appeared to originate from the house reported seven armed individuals had invaded the home and already had struck the father on the head. The caller claimed to be a child who lived there.

After responding appropriately with multiple officers and deputies, establishing a perimeter around the house and then contacting the occupants, it turned out nothing of the kind was taking place. The only thing that actually had happened in reality was the 9-1-1 call being placed -- and even that had been spoofed.

"At this time, we believe this incident is what's called a swatting incident," said Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler.

Swatting is a term the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been using and investigating since at least 2008. Swatting happens when an individual uses technology to make it appear an emergency call is coming from somebody else's phone, generally claiming a dangerous situation is taking place in hopes of drawing law enforcement to that address. The calls appear credible enough -- and dangerous enough -- that SWAT teams generally respond.

Because of the resources wasted dispatching personnel and the frightened responses of unsuspecting victims at the residences, the FBI is treating swatting as a serious crime. One perpetrator highlighted on the agency's website, Matthew Weigman, is serving 11 years in prison for instigating dozens of swatting hoaxes.

"The FBI takes swatting very seriously," special agent Kevin Kolbye said in a press release. "Working closely with industry and law enforcement partners, we continue to refine our technological capabilities and our investigative techniques to stop the thoughtless individuals who commit these crimes. The bottom line is that swatting puts innocent people at risk."

Chief Scheibler said the FBI is assisting the investigation of last week's incident. Even though the 9-1-1 call was a hoax, law enforcement is treating it seriously.

As Scheibler said: "(T)his is a crime. It's not a joke. It's a crime, and we're going to investigate it."

We would hope nobody local would be so malicious as to be involved in the crime. We would venture, however, there is. Other than celebrity swatting, most incidents are targeted at specific individuals who are known to the criminals. Most likely it either will be a cruel prank, or retribution for a wrong -- real or imagined.

The individual responsible for this hoax eventually will be tracked down. As good as their technological skills appear to be, the government has a few more tools at its disposal. Particularly the FBI.

The perpetrator would be better off in the long run if they turned themselves in now, before even more resources are dedicated to finding them.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net