Vancouver police investigate apparent case of ‘swatting’

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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Vancouver police are investigating a report of a homicide-in-progress that turned out to be a hoax.

Officers swarmed the Autumn Chase Apartments, 11301 N.E. Seventh St., at about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday after a caller reported that he had shot and killed a family member, and planned to kill another, Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.

But even while police were en route, Kapp said, responders were skeptical. The call was the only one of its kind, and in a legitimate report of a weapons disturbance, dispatchers would be inundated with people reporting the gunshots, Kapp said.

When arriving officers set up containment and contacted some neighbors, they learned that nobody had reported hearing anything that sounded like gunshots, Kapp said.

“Very early on, it appeared that there was something not matching up,” she said.

But police continued responding in case the incident was real. Officers yelled outside the apartment, announcing themselves and asking the occupants to come outside. When the occupants, two young adults, exited, officers learned they had no knowledge of the call. Everyone was safe and there was no threat, she said.

The incident appeared to be a case of “swatting,” when a caller makes a fake report to dispatchers, sending emergency responders — often times members of a SWAT team — to a made-up emergency.

Investigators believe that whoever made the fake emergency call gained personal information, such as a physical address, from other Internet users and sent police to that location.

Swatting appears to be fairly rare in Vancouver, with the only other swatting call in recent memory reported in April. Wednesday night’s incident and the incident in April both involved online gaming.

Kapp said gamers and anyone who has online relationships should be cautious when sharing personal information on the Internet.

That information, she said, “can potentially be used against people. Any kind of Internet or online relationships, you really don’t know the person on the other end of the computer.”

There is limited suspect information, Kapp said, but investigators will try to find the perpetrator.

False calls waste a large amount of police resources, she added, which lowers the priority for other real emergency calls that come in around the same time.

“It’s certainly concerning to our agency and the community,” Kapp said. “We need to be able to serve other citizens who have legitimate needs.”