HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — It didn’t take long Wednesday evening for authorities to realize that a report of a double murder near Grand Haven was made up.
Around 8:30 p.m., someone called 911 and said two people had been shot at a home in the 13000 block of Sugarbush Lane, near 144th Avenue and Green Street in Robinson Township.
“He is advising that he has shot his mother and his father in the head and he has his brother tied up in the house,” a dispatcher informed emergency responders. “He is depressed and wants money so that he can leave the country. He does believe his parents are deceased.”
Ottawa County sheriff’s deputies responded, but didn’t find any victims or any evidence of a shooting.
The sheriff’s office says it was a case of “swatting” — a situation in which someone reports a fake crime to get a large police response. In this case, authorities say, a boy in the house had been playing video games online and somehow made an enemy. That person did some research before making the call, gathering information that made his report viable.
But 911 dispatchers are getting wise to swatting.
“There were some red flags here almost immediately,” sheriff’s office C apt. Mark Bennett said.
The first was that the call came in to the Grand Rapids Police Department. Had the call be placed from the house on Sugarbush, it would have been routed to Ottawa County.
“We treat every call as if it were the real thing, but our dispatchers picked up on some things that just didn’t feel right to them right away, so they get into gear to verify whether we have a real situation or a swatting situation,” Ottawa County Central Dispatch Executive Director Tim Smith said.
Incidents of swatting are on the rise. It happened last year in Lowell and earlier this year in Zeeland. It may seem like a mere nuisance, but authorities say it’s a public safety hazard because it pulls resources from where they may actually needed.
In response, dispatchers are undergoing increased training.
“They are trained interrogators. They could be detectives on their off days. And they hear things that you may hear in a conversation that you may not pay any attention to,” Smith said.
The goal is to provide police with the best information possible before they arrive at a scene.
It paid off Wednesday night when dispatchers called the house where the 911 caller said the shooting happened.
“He said he is fine,” a dispatcher informed emergency responders. “There is nobody injured in his residence. He was playing his PS4. We still have him on the line and when another unit gets there, we can have him come out if you like.”
Police are trying to track down who made the bogus report.
Investigators can usually find swatters, but prosecuting them is difficult. The incidents often cross state lines and involve underage suspects.
There are serious felony charges for swatting, but they don’t often come to fruition.