This month, nearly a dozen schools in states across the U.S. were targeted by the dangerous “swatting” trend that appears to be on the rise. Last week, multiple schools in Minnesota received false reports of active shootings within the state. The harmful hoax even forced the city of Denver to shut down all 25 of its public library branches and cancel classes out of safety for citizens following false reports of shooting in the area, The Washington Post noted.
While the startling trend appears to be growing in popularity, swatting has been a longstanding problem for years.
What is Swatting?
Swatting is a dangerous hoax where emergency services are informed of a threat such as a shooting, bomb, or hostage situation at a specific address. Oftentimes the caller or “swatter” uses technology like a caller ID or Voice Over Internet Protocol technology to disguise their identity and make it appear as though they are calling from the same area as the alleged incident.
In mid-September, a 15-year-old student from Trinity High School in Texas was arrested after they called in a fake bomb threat to the campus as a “joke.”
Sadly, nearly 36 historically Black colleges across the country have also been impacted by the startling trend since January. Students at Morehouse were forced to shelter in place back in March after a bomb threat sent the university into sheer panic. Howard University was also slammed with false bomb reports. In a statement released in August, the school’s president Wayne A.I. Frederick said the campus was targeted by bomb threats on eight different occasions. Thankfully, none of the targeted threats have led to actual violence.
Back in February, NewsOne spoke with the FBI about what they were doing to protect HBCU students amid the growing crisis, but the agency didn’t go into detail about their plan of action.
“The FBI is aware of the series of bomb threats around the country and we are working with our law enforcement partners to address any potential threats,” the agency said in a statement emailed to NewsOne at the time. “As always, we would like to remind members of the public that if they observe anything suspicious to report it to law enforcement immediately.”
Prominent leaders from the Black community have since called on the nation’s top law enforcement agency to thoroughly investigate the suspicious reports to prevent the issue from becoming deadly.
So far, there have only been two reported casualties resulting from the vicious swatting hoax.
When Swatting Becomes Fatal
In Dec. 2017, a Witchita man named Andrew Finch died after a SWAT team arrived at his front porch with their guns drawn. When Finch failed to raise his arms as directed by the officers, the 28-year-old was fatally shot.
Finch’s death came after two gamers by the name of Shane Gaskill and Casey Viner got into a heated argument online over a $1.50 bet. Using an old Wichita address from Gaskill, Viner persuaded Tyler Barriss of Los Angeles to place a hoax call to the Wichita police claiming a shooting and kidnapping occurred at the address. Moments later, SWAT officials arrived at Finch’s door fully armed, but he had no clue what was happening before he was fatally shot.
In 2019, Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison after reaching a plea deal and accepting guilt on 51 charges connected to the deadly prank. Viner was sentenced to 15 months behind bars. On Sep. 26, Gaskill was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in the vicious hoax.
More recently in April 2020, a man named Mark Herring died after police came to his home responding to a swatting call. Herring passed away from a heart attack after being scared by the traumatizing incident.
How can we stop the rising swatting trend?
There are a few ways law officials say people can protect themselves from the dangerous swatting trend. Law enforcement experts are urging people to protect their personal information online. They are also asking young adults to be vigilant in internet chat rooms or online forums where swatters usually gather to coordinate dangerous hoaxes.
“Web hosts should have some liability for swatting if they are made aware of it and fail to take some type of action,” Elizabeth Jaffe, a professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, told the A&E network.
Adam Scott Wandt, assistant professor and vice chair for technology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said that swatters have figured out a way to use smartphone cameras and other devices to target the public. Protecting your private passwords on smart devices such as your phone, tablet, and laptop may help to deter swatting.
“My general suggestion for law enforcement is if a call comes in from a cell phone that appears to be a potential swatting case or other type of case of concern, that they use their [Enhanced 911] geotracing to see exactly where the cell phone is,” Wandt added to A&E.
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