MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The Myrtle Beach Police Department gave a breakdown of events that occurred after they said someone made a fake 911 call that prompted them to surround a local home.
The incident happened Monday night on Green Bay Trail, around 44th Avenue North and Robert Grissom Parkway.
According to a post on the Myrtle Beach Police Department’s Facebook, the incident went as follows:
- At 6:53 p.m., the MBPD’s communications section received a call from a man claiming to be a resident at the address. That caller told them he had just shot his wife and was going to kill the other people in the house.
- Officers responded to the address at 6:54 p.m. and were on scene at 6:57 p.m.
- Officers immediately set up a perimeter to protect nearby residents and secure the scene.
- MBPD’s SWAT and Negotiations Teams responded at 7:11 p.m.
- The actual resident realized there was a problem and contacted the police department at 7:19 p.m. He explained that everything was fine in the house.
- A negotiator with the Myrtle Beach Police Department began speaking with the actual resident at 7:21 p.m. and within 12 minutes the scene was secured.
- Our initial investigation leads officers to believe the residents were innocent victims of a type of hoax call known as “swatting.”
Swatting is defined as “making a hoax call to 911 to draw a response from law enforcement, usually a SWAT team.”
The caller uses sophisticated methods to gain information on a victim’s address, family and phone number.
The FBI first defined the cyber harassment activity in the mid 2000s. In the last decade, the number of incidents has increased, according to one expert.
Former FBI assistant special agent Kevin Kolbye managed a FBI cyber unit in Dallas that dealt with multiple cases of swatting. He said these incidents usually are intended as childish pranks and are not meant to cause harm.
Kolbye said 90 to 95 percent of the cases involve teenagers who are heavily involved in the gaming community.
“It is done through online gaming where individuals are playing Warcraft or Call of Duty or some type of game… and they may lose or get frustrated or angry with the person they are playing with and then they call a swatting hoax to their house and often times these individuals have never met their intended victim, it’s all out of frustration, fear, anger or retaliatory nature,” Kolbye explained.
Bob McCord, the victim in Myrtle Beach, said he does play competitive gaming daily but is unsure if that is why he was targeted.
In the past, celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and politicians have been victims of swatting.
Kolbye said in most cases the victims are not random, although they may have never met their offender.
Despite the initial nature of the calls, swatting can be very dangerous.
“It takes the intended victim, who is not part of any crime, it takes them by complete surprise, and when it takes them by complete surprise, they know they haven’t done anything wrong, so often times they act irrational,” Kolbye said.
He explained that the victim’s irrational behavior paired with officers’ readiness can be a deadly combination.
A man in Kansas died after stepping outside during a 2017 swatting incident. He was unarmed but officers thought he was reaching for a gun when he lowered his hands.
A California man made the fake call following a dispute over Call of Duty WWII. He had a history of making hoax calls across the country. Last November, he pleaded guilty to 51 charges related to fake calls and threats filed across multiple jurisdictions.
Since there is no federal law against ‘swatting,’ offenders are charged with existing related federal laws such as conspiracy, providing false information and cyber stalking.
Swatting also violates interstate threat statutes since callers often make calls across states.
An individual can be sentenced to multiple years in prison for most of the federal charges.
Kolbye explained swatting cases are difficult to investigate and many individuals never get arrested or prosecuted.
“They are difficult to investigate on local police departments because normally most individuals who swat are from another city, another jurisdiction or another state and second of all, it’s time intensive, manpower intensive to investigate those type of computer-related, electronic technological investigations,” he said.
Kolbye said the FBI has the resources and expertise to investigate this type of crime but generally only gets involved in cases of repeated violators.
He also explained that many state laws do not treat swatting as a serious offense. Instead, callers are charged with a misdemeanor, like making a false report and then only face a fine or minimum jail time.
Kolbye said he thinks swatting needs to be taken more serious at all levels.
“If you don’t hold individuals accountable, again, this childish intended harmless prank can really lead to serious bodily injury,” Kolbye said.
Fortunately, the situation in Myrtle Beach ended peacefully with no injuries.
The MBPD is investigating to see who made the fake 911 call. If anyone has any information about the case, they are encouraged to contact MBPD at 843-918-1382.
“Incidents such as this remind us how important it is to have positive, trusting relationships with the members of our community,” the MBPD said in a Facebook post. “We are thankful for the cooperation of the victim, the support of our community and the professionalism displayed by are officers.”