When the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office got a call about a shooting and hostage situation in Rice Lake, officers from multiple agencies rushed to the home – only to find a couple of kids totally unaware of an emergency call, and not at all involved in a violent situation.
The sheriff's office said it received the call just after 7:30 a.m. Friday, reporting a shooting and hostage on the 4200 block of West Calvary Road.
Once there, they got into contact with two juveniles in the residence, and also reached out to the homeowner. None of them knew anything about the 911 call, and a search of the property found absolutely nothing suspicious.
The sheriff's office says this is another case of swatting – and is the latest in a string of recent fake emergency calls.
Swatting is dangerous
The FBI says it first warned about swatting in 2008 – though they know of an incident dating back to 2004, when a 14-year-old called in a fake hostage situation at the house of a girl who refused to have phone sex with him.
The FBI says the victim gets taken by surprise, and officers can't assume it's a fake call – they have to be on high alert, ready for anything, and prepped for violence.
“It’s a dangerous situation any way you look at it," the FBI's Kevin Kolbye has said.
Incidents in Minnesota
Last year, a 19-year-old Texas man was sent to prison for swatting a high school in Marshall, Minnesota, over the course of three years.
“‘Swatting’ is dangerous to victims and a significant drain on scarce law enforcement resources,” said Minnesota's U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger at the time.
Officials have estimated at least 400 swattings happen every year, but that number could be higher because they often aren’t reported to prevent copycats, AFP reported.
Swatting is especially popular in the online gaming community, AFP noted, where swatters target online rivals who are live-streaming a game – when police arrive, people can watch the scenario play out live.
That’s what is believed to have happened to an Air Force veteran and gamer in St. Cloud when armed officers stormed into his house. The incident was streamed to thousands of other gamers.
Anyone with information about the Rice Lake incident – who may have made the call, and from where – is asked to contact the sheriff's office at 218-336-4350.