By JESSIE HORTON
Photos by RUSSELL HUFFMAN
STEPHENVILLE (August 31, 2015) — Two phone calls, about two minutes long total, ruined the night of one local family in Heritage Hills last Thursday night, but not nearly like what many believed.
“There was absolutely no dynamic entry into the family’s home on Heritage Way Thursday night,” Erath County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jason Upshaw said Monday afternoon. “When we arrived on scene, we immediately put a perimeter around the house to secure it for everyone’s safety. Officers with weapons drawn did make contact with the family, but no one kicked down any doors.”
Upshaw said after emergency personnel from Stephenville PD, Erath County Sheriff’s Office and Erath County Volunteer Fire and Rescue secured the area, an officer made contact with the back door of the house and found it unlocked. Upon opening the door, the officer loudly announced his presence and looked into an empty back room of the house. According to official reports, a male subject came around the corner and was identified as the homeowner, who had not actually made any phone calls to 911 at all.
After the family was safely removed from the home, officers cleared the residence and released the property back to the homeowner. Investigators questioned the family and listened to recordings of both 911 calls in an attempt to discover the responsible party.
“We’ve almost completely determined this wasn’t someone locally,” Sheriff Tommy Bryant said. “We’re now working with the FBI on this case. This person could have been from anywhere and that’s why the FBI is going to help us on this one.”
ECSO cannot release the recordings of the 911 calls as the case is still under investigation. However, The Flash was granted access to them Monday afternoon and this is what we do know:
• Just after 5 p.m. on Thursday, August 27, a subject called the Stephenville PD landline and advised he was armed and had two hostages at an address on Heritage Way. The subject identified himself as the homeowner and gave an exact address and the name of the man who lived there.
• The caller told the dispatcher that he had weapons and had attached “devices” to his two hostages. He said the devices had razor blades in them and would go off in five minutes, killing the hostages. He also told the dispatcher the devices had already been activated and he planned to kill himself after they went off.
• While emergency personnel was enroute, a second call came into the same landline from another blocked number. The female voice gave the correct name and address of a neighbor to the first home and said she heard screaming and four gunshots from a possible assault rifle.
• Officers arrived, set up a perimeter, made entry into the home and announced their presence, only to discover no one in the home was in any type of danger. ECSO investigators have since discovered evidence that the same subject made both calls using a program designed to disguise his or her voice.
• Investigators also believe the subject isn’t local based on the fact that the calls came into a landline at the Stephenville PD – any actual 911 call goes to the department based on cell towers’ location and any call from Heritage Hills would have gone to the county. Officials said even if the call had gone to the city of Stephenville’s 911 service, it wouldn’t have rang on that specific number.
• “Swatting is the act of tricking an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher) into dispatching an emergency response based on the false report of an ongoing critical incident. The term derives from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), a highly militarized type of police unit in the United States carrying equipment such as door breaching equipment and powerful firearms.
Swatting has been associated with online harassment campaigns, and episodes range from large to small — from the deployment of bomb squads, SWAT units and other police units and the concurrent evacuations of schools and businesses, to a single fabricated police report meant to discredit an individual as a prank or personal vendetta.
The action of swatting—linked to the action of doxxing (obtaining the address and details of an individual)—has been described as terrorism due to its potential to cause disruption, waste the time of emergency services, divert attention from real emergencies and possibly cause injuries and psychological harm to persons targeted. The act of making false reports to emergency services is punishable by prison sentences in the U.S. and a crime in many other countries.”
While they aren’t sure who is responsible, investigators with ECSO and Sheriff Tommy Bryant himself want residents to know they did not kick down the door and traumatize a family needlessly and that they are working to resolve this case.
“We want to commend everyone involved in this case,” Upshaw said. “Everyone did exactly their jobs and did them well. It was a stressful situation at first, but our officers responded exactly how they were supposed to and we’re all very pleased with the peaceful outcome.”
Bryant backed his chief deputy.
“Everyone from that dispatcher, who handled that situation beautifully, to the officers on scene did wonderful jobs Thursday night,” he concluded. “Those officers could have charged in and kicked down that door to try and save people, but they acted with composure and saved that family more stress. Now, our investigators are working closely with FBI investigators to track down those responsible.”