iPhone sale cracked ‘catch me if you can’ case in Ottawa County

Forensics detective Kerri Cannata honored by FBI, Ottawa County Sheriff's Office

Detective Kerri Cannata
Ottawa County Sheriff's Office Detective Kerri Cannata. (Dec. 14, 2017)

COOPERVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) –- A detective from the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office has received the department’s highest award for tracking down the teenager responsible for several fake threats in West Michigan and across the nation.

Forensic Detective Kerri Cannata recently received the Distinguished Law Enforcement Award, along with a commendation from the FBI.

Kerri Cannata
Detective Kerri Cannata accepts the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office award for her work in tracking down a swatter.

The “catch me if you can” case began in September 2014 with an active shooter threat to Coopersville Public Schools.

“We didn’t have any idea if it was someone local or in a different state or different county,” said Cannata.

It turned out to be a swatting incident, which is characterized as a prank call made to emergency responders in an attempt to draw a large law enforcement response to a particular address.

In this case, officers responded, the school went into lockdown and some parents to keep their children home.

Cannata found a Twitter account claiming responsibility. She began working to identify the user, who went by the name, “Ransom.”

Each time Cannata got a step closer, “Ransom” swatted another target. He moved on to Hudsonville and Allendale public schools, made a bomb threat to Delta Airlines in Atlanta, even threatened to kidnap and slaughter the family of an FBI agent in Pennsylvania.

Each false threat made Cannata work harder.

“Not only is what he was doing very dangerous — we could have had a lot different circumstances or outcomes — but on top of all that, the way he posted on Twitter about how it was a joke and ‘nobody can catch me,’ you could tell that he really didn’t grasp at all the seriousness of his actions,” she said.

“Ransom” taunted police and boasted on Twitter about each new target. At one point, he called the sheriff’s office and said he wouldn’t stop until he was caught.

After nine months of investigating, an iPhone purchase was the break Cannata needed. The swatter used an email accounts linked to the swatting to buy the device, which was shipped to his home in the United Kingdom.

Cannata finally had a name and address. “Ransom” turned out to be 15-year-old Gregory Sales. Police in England went to his home and made an arrest.

“They’re not as anonymous as they think. And even if they do think that, we’re going to put in the time and effort because we believe it’s a worthy cause and people should be held accountable for it,” said Cannata.

Sales was sentenced to one year in jail. He’s now serving time.