Lake Stevens police investigating prank 911 call

LAKE STEVENS — Police are investigating a false call to 911 on Monday in which a person claimed there had been a shooting at a home here — an apparent attempt to cause a massive police response to someone else’s house.

The incident was reported at 8:25 p.m. Monday in the 3300 block of Lake Drive.

Dispatchers were told that a young man had shot and killed his father, tied up his mother, put a hand grenade in her mouth, and was threatening to commit suicide, Lake Stevens police Cmdr. Dennis Taylor said.

Dispatchers also were told the young man had shot a dog and started a fire.

“The officers got there, surrounded the house, made contact with everybody inside. They were all fine,” Taylor said.

The family in the house is doing OK but still is thinking about what happened, said Warren Henke, 45.

Henke, his wife and two of their grown children were at home when he heard a megaphone and a lot of noise outside.

“I ran out the door and I looked up and down the street, and I just saw cop cars all over the place and officers everywhere,” Henke said. “I ran back in the house. I didn’t realize they were yelling at me.”

The family gathered upstairs and realized the police were calling to them.

They went outside and were rushed onto a neighbor’s lawn. Henke thought maybe a fugitive was on the loose and the area was being evacuated, he said.

Officers responded quickly, but there were signs early on that something was off, interim Police Chief Dan Lorentzen said. Known as “SWAT-ing,” similar incidents have led to criminal prosecutions.

“Our supervisors, too, are officers,” he said. “Once more details were coming out, they realized they possibly were dealing with a false call, but they have to take everything as an immediate threat until they can prove otherwise. The judgment showed by these professionals came through.”

For example, officers asked dispatchers for any history of police calls associated with that address, a routine question in emergencies, Lorentzen said.

That’s when they learned the call came from an out-of-state number via Skype, an Internet video chat service. Background noises on the 911 call also didn’t mesh with what was being reported.

Officers are following up, “investigating who called it in and why,” Taylor said.

The criminal investigation, at the least, could involve allegations of false reporting, a misdemeanor under state law. However, crimes that cross state borders can become more complicated when it comes to potential prosecution.

“We always take these things very seriously when calls come in,” Lorentzen said. “We expect them to be legitimate calls, that people need emergency services. There’s a litany of charges you could look at down the line.”

Henke believes it may have stemmed from a video game competition.

His 20-year-old son makes a little money competing in “Call of Duty” and was playing the game when the “SWAT-ing” incident happened. Players often watch each other’s games live on the Internet.

Henke’s son also was awaiting the announcement of the winners in a recent “Call of Duty” contest. He was a finalist out of thousands of competitors, Henke said.

His son doesn’t know who made the false 911 report.

The caller was “just trying to push it so they would storm the house,” Henke said. “Luckily, the police department suspected this all along and they played it real calm.”

Sheriff’s deputies were summoned to the incident in addition to Lake Stevens officers, but there was no SWAT team call-out, Lorentzen said. This was the first time SWAT-ing has been reported in Lake Stevens.

It’s a serious crime. A Mukilteo 19-year-old in 2008 was sentenced to three years in a California prison and was ordered to pay $15,000 in fines for sending a SWAT team to the home of a family in Orange County, California.

Everett police had a few similar cases several years ago, but they “tapered off rapidly,” officer Aaron Snell said Tuesday. The prank usually becomes obvious before a SWAT team is summoned, Snell said.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office had a SWAT-ing incident more than a decade ago, spokeswoman Shari Ireton said. That incident also involved a caller from out of state.

Such cases most often are handled by local police unless they involve a federal building or a threat to a public official, according to the FBI in Seattle.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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