Swatting hoax hits Ottawa County

Posted at 9:07 PM, Aug 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-14 21:07:18-04

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. -- Emergency crews who responded to an urgent call in Robinson Township Wednesday night have learned they're victims of swatting.

This latest hoax happened in the 13,000 block of Sugarbush Lane.

Capt. Mark Bennett with the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department said it began with a phone call from a prankster asking for help.

"[It] appeared to be a teenage caller...described shots had been fired and family had been shot-his family," Bennett said.

It's a call that Bennett said brought crews to the home. Turns out, everyone was all right. Bennett said a 12 -year-old who lives there, while playing a video game, began interacting with a teenager who threatened to "swat" his home.

Swatting involves tricking emergency crews into responding to a false report that's critical enough in nature to bring in the SWAT team.

"Unfortunately, we've had a few instances of this type in Ottawa County this year," Bennett said.

While the prank may seem harmless it's anything but.

"Earlier this year, we had an instance result in some damage to a county cruiser," Bennett said. "Thankfully, no one was injured. The cost of the response, just the monetary cost of that kind of response, the drain on resources and the public safety issue is paramount."

It's not just the local departments being impacted. Hollywood has also seen swatting in their neighborhoods. Celebrities like Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Clint Eastwood have all been hit by the prank.

In 2012, swatting in the state of Michigan became a felony with penalites up to four years in prison. If found guilty, a person could also find themselves paying thousands of dollars in crimes.

While anyone can participate in the hoax, Bennett said offenders are most often times teenagers.

With video games being the gateway to this latest crime Bennett has some words of advice for parents.

"Know what yoru kids are doing on these gaming devices," he said. "I think we can really no longer accept the fat that, 'well, it's technology, I'm not going to deal with it...I'm going to let the kids do what they need to do.' I think if parents are going to let their kids use these devices they should at least have the basic knowledge of the device-what it's capable of doing."

Bennett said they're working with the family who lives on Sugarbush Lane. He said the department is looking through IP addresses and screen names that the user who was talking to the 12-year-old inside the home may have been using. He said the two had been talking for about a week prior to the incident.

According to Bennett, tracking down a suspect in cases like this are typically difficult to do. He said the person they're looking for may be living in Canada.