Teen who 'swatted' Lowell family hit with $1,300 bill

LOWELL, Mich. (WZZM) - A teen who phoned in a false report about six armed gunman storming a Lowell home has been ordered to pay more than $1,300 in restitution to police agencies responding to the March 2013 hoax.

The teen, who lives in Mount Airy, N.C., was charged with making a false report to police, which under North Carolina law is punishable by up to six months in jail.

It's called "swatting,'' making a hoax call to 911 to draw a response from law enforcement, usually a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.

The North Carolina boy was placed on probation and ordered to pay the city of Lowell $1,237 and the Kent County Sheriff's Department $134.

"It was an expensive lesson,'' said Lowell Police Detective Gordy Lauren, who has kept tabs on the case. "There were a total of nine officers dispatched on his prank call.''

It is the second reported "swatting'' incident in West Michigan. Police from Holland, Zeeland and the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department responded in April to a call about two armed men entering a home in Zeeland with shots fired.

A sergeant with the Ottawa County Sheriff' Department was involved in a crash at Lakewood Boulevard and 120th Avenue while responding to the hoax.

No arrests have been made, but the case remains under investigation, Zeeland Police Chief Bill Olney said.

"I don't understand people's thinking; the resources wasted and the potential for harm when you have resources yanked somewhere on a false report,'' Olney said. "Until officers arrive on scene, you don't really know what you've got so other calls are neglected for a period of time.''

In the 2013 Lowell case, AT&T received a text at 11:20 p.m. March 1 advising that six men armed with assault rifles broke into a house on South Pleasant Street. Responding officers were told a teenage girl had been stabbed and her parents were being held hostage.

Arriving officers were greeted by the homeowner – a Lowell youth pastor, who was watching TV when his house was surrounded by police tactical units.

The intended 'target' was a Lowell Middle School student who met the "swatter'' on Skype, an online peer-to-peer connection system.

They met in a group chat room "and apparently he didn't like what she was saying, so he decides to 'SWAT' her, sending up a SWAT team or police agency to her house to cause a problem,'' Kent County Sheriff's detective Scot Vansolkema wrote in a police report.

The detective accessed the North Carolina boy's Twitter feed and "he had mentioned swatting another person,'' he wrote.

The girl told police she learned her lesson and was no longer going to talk to random stangers online.

Police obtained several search warrants for online accounts, which led them to Mount Airy, better known as the birthplace of Andy Griffith. The boy – who used an online name of ''swatted101'' is also believed responsible for swatting incidents in Illinois and Massachusetts.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation says 'swatting' first surfaced in 2008 and there are about 400 cases reported a year. "Spoofing" technology—which enables callers to mask their own numbers while making the victims' numbers appear – has made it difficult for emergency operators to verify the legitimacy of the call.

Hollywood celebrities are favorite targets of the new trend; recent victims include Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise and Ashton Kutcher.

In April, more than 60 heavily armed officers went to a home in Long Beach, N.Y. when a caller reported someone had killed his mother and brother there.

Police said the caller may have been upset while playing "Call of Duty,'' on online video game, and made the call against his 17-year-old opponent.


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