Officials looking for “swatters” who fooled officers

OLYMPIA — Detectives with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office have filed search warrant affidavits to identify the owner of the Internet Protocol address that was used in June to send messages falsely claiming a man and his son were being held hostage at a home off Vail Cut-Off Road in Rainier.

Deputies and fire crews responded to a report of a hostage situation at the home on June 26, only to learn that it had been falsely reported by a “swatter.” “Swatters” try to trick law-enforcement and emergency response crews into responding to homes by falsely reporting crimes occurring there.

During the June incident, detectives learned that a 13-year-old boy who lives at the Vail Cut-Off Road address had been playing Xbox Live about a month or two before the incident, and a fellow gamer had threatened to “swat” him during live game play. Xbox Live allows gamers to play remotely against each other in real time.

The report to the Thurston County 911 center on June 26 indicated that “there was a possible hostage situation with a gunshot victim,” court papers state. When deputies arrived, they cleared the home of threats, and it was obvious that the 13-year-old boy there was “shocked and stunned” that law enforcement had been called to the residence, court papers state. Later on the same date, there was a second 911 report of a hostage situation at the address, and law enforcement quickly verified it too was false.

Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin has said it appeared that someone had remotely accessed the 13-year-old’s Xbox account and sent text messages to the 911 call center indicating there was a hostage situation there. Elwin has said the culprit could be an Xbox user from out of state.

According to search warrant affidavits filed on Thursday, detectives have learned the Internet Protocol or IP address that was used to send the messages. The search warrant affidavits seek the “subscriber/ownership” information of the IP address.

False reporting is a gross misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.