MUKILTEO — A teen is accused of using a computer in his Mukilteo home to report a fake homicide in California, which sent a SWAT team to the house of an innocent couple and their two sleeping toddlers.
Mukilteo police arrested Randal Travis Ellis, 19, Friday on an arrest warrant out of Orange County, Calif. He’s being held without bail in Snohomish County jail and is expected to be sent to Orange County jail in a few days.
California prosecutors have charged him with six felonies, including two counts of false imprisonment by violence and two counts of assault with an assault weapon by proxy. If convicted Ellis faces up to 18 years in prison.
“Even though he wasn’t there, his actions were directly responsible for what happened,” said according to Farrah Emami, a spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Investigators believe that on March 29 Ellis hacked into the Orange County 911 system from his home in Mukilteo. He never spoke with a dispatcher over the phone, but used his computer to report a homicide at a house in Lake Forest, Calif., Emami said.
An Orange County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team surrounded the couple’s home and took them into custody at gunpoint.
Computer forensic detectives also found evidence that Ellis instigated 911 emergency responses for other fake incidents in Washington, Arizona and Pennsylvania, Emami said.
Locally, Mukilteo detectives are investigating Ellis for making a false report to an emergency dispatcher. Ellis told dispatchers there was a deceased person at a house in Mukilteo, detective Lance Smith said on Tuesday.
Six officers responded to the call but quickly discovered that it was a hoax. The case is expected to be forwarded to Snohomish County prosecutors.
Orange County sheriff’s investigators have been poring over Ellis’ computer since it was seized by Mukilteo detectives in June from his bedroom in his parents’ house. Police also seized several books, including computer hacking manuals, according to a search warrant filed in Everett District Court.
Ellis has no prior convictions.
He was charged in with second-degree malicious mischief in September in Snohomish County Superior Court. In that case, prosecutors say, Ellis, wearing only a bedsheet, causing six baseball-sized dents by ramming his body into a woman’s car outside a house where a party was going on.
Witnesses told police Ellis appeared drunk and attempted to get into the woman’s car.
The fake murder call in California was no prank, Emami said.
Investigators believe the incident began when Ellis called the couple’s home while they slept on March 29. The woman answered the phone and told the unknown caller that he had dialed the wrong number.
The man insisted he had the right number and then made some lewd comments. The woman later told police it sounded like the caller was typing during the conversation. Detectives believe that Ellis was confirming the couple’s name, according to the search warrant.
Shortly after that call, detectives believe Ellis used his computer to call 911 dispatchers. They were given the Lake Forest couple’s address and were told that a woman was going to be shot.
Dispatchers were asked if they wanted to “hear a gunshot,” then told that the woman had been shot in her head, and that “the war was on. Come inside the house and I’ll kill you (expletive),” according to the search warrant.
The caller reported that his sister and friend were dead and they were up to eight people in the house. The emergency operator reported that the caller became more agitated and then threatened to kill himself. He then disconnected and there was no one way to reach him, Orange County investigators reported.
A SWAT team armed with assault rifles surrounded the house, believing that a murder had been committed inside, Emami said.
About that same time, inside the couple’s home, the wife was telling her husband about the suspicious call. They then heard a rustling in the bushes outside and believed it was a prowler. The victim armed himself with a knife from the kitchen and stepped outside into the backyard.
“Instead of an intruder SWAT team members were pointing assault rifles at him,” Emami said. “And the SWAT team saw a man armed with a weapon at the house where they believed a murder had occurred. We’re thankful no one was killed. It easily could have escalated to that point.”
The couple were held at gunpoint and handcuffed while their two young children were inside. They were entirely innocent, Emami said.
“This family was beyond terrified,” Emami said.
Reporter Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463 or email@example.com.