Crime

A Brief History of Swatting: Threats Against East High and More Schools

Denver East High School was one of several Colorado locations allegedly swatted on September 19.
Denver East High School was one of several Colorado locations allegedly swatted on September 19. Google Maps
Denver Police Department officers swarmed East High School on September 19, after the facility was targeted by threats from a thus-far-unknown source, who appears to have had a busy day. Similar warnings were issued to at least four other schools across the state, leading authorities to conclude that they were examples of swatting — bogus portents of doom intended to trigger responses from SWAT teams, and issued just for the thrill of it.

To put it mildly, law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Denver office, which is lending its support to track down the culprit, are not amused by the gambit, a variation of a prank they've been dealing with for more than a decade.

At 2:09 p.m. yesterday, the DPD's Twitter account sent out this alert: "Large police presence in the area of East High School on a report of a threat at the school. At this point, the threat has been unfounded — no reports of injuries. This is an active scene. We will post updates to this thread as made available."

Just under two hours later, at 3:59 p.m., the department hosted a briefing about the situation led by Ron Thomas, who's been running day-to-day operations at the department since Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen announced his retirement on August 31. And by the time Thomas spoke, he had plenty of evidence that East had been swatted.

At 3:49 p.m., the Colorado Springs Police Department put out its own Twitter announcement: "On 9/19/2022 at about 2:30 p.m. a call to the CSPD Communications Center stated there was an Active Shooter at an area school. It was quickly determined that this was a Swatting call. As School Resource Officers and School Security quickly identified that the call was a hoax. No students or staff were in danger based on this hoax. There are no known threats to any Colorado Springs School, and these calls may be occurring in other locations across the country."

True enough, as evidenced by a news release from the Alamosa Police Department, which begins: "On Monday September 19th at approximately 2:45 pm, the Alamosa Police Department received reports of a potential active shooter at the Alamosa High School. Police responded to the High School within one minute of receiving the dispatch call and all Alamosa schools were placed on lockdown. Police immediately began sweeping the hallways looking for the threat. After searching, no threat was located."

The release added: "It has been discovered that the same type of situation has been reported in a Denver Metro School, Montrose and Texas schools on today’s date, less than one hour prior to APD receiving this call."

Actually, the swatting incidents in Texas — the Houston area, particularly — occurred late last week. But there were others reported yesterday in Cedaredge and Delta, as well as Montrose.

The first FBI bulletin to use the term "swatting" was issued back in February 2008; it referenced an episode the previous year in which "a 19-year-old Washington state man was charged by California authorities after pretending to be calling from the home of a married California couple, saying he had just shot and murdered someone. A local SWAT team arrived on the scene, and the husband, who had been asleep in his home with his wife and two young children, heard something and went outside to investigate — after first stopping in the kitchen to pick up a knife. What he found was a group of SWAT assault rifles aimed directly at him. Fortunately, the situation didn’t escalate, and no one was injured."

By the next decade, swatting had become a popular gag among high-profile gamers, as illustrated in August 2014, when police burst into the Littleton studio of Jordan "Kootra" Matthewson as he was livestreaming Counter-Strike. The cops could be heard shouting, "Put your hands up! Get on the fucking ground! Don't you fucking move, you hear me, boy?" Meanwhile, schools in Littleton were locked down until investigators determined that Kootra had been swatted.

The next year, Colorado was tied to swatting escapades in California and Nevada. About 12:45 a.m. on September 8, 2015, the police department of Corona, a community east of Anaheim, received a bomb threat for Centennial High School, a large facility in the area. The male caller said two bombs in backpacks had been planted in the school and were set to explode that morning. After alerting school officials, police rushed to the campus to conduct room-to-room searches with the assistance of a bomb-sniffing dog. Eventually, the cops found a couple of suspicious backpacks, but even though members of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department bomb squad concluded that they were safe, school was canceled for the day as a precautionary measure. A similar call was placed to the Corona police on September 9, and since recent swatting threats had also been made regarding high schools in Las Vegas, the FBI took on the case and subsequently traced the conversations to a residence in Colorado Springs. The alleged perpetrator: a teenager, who was soon put under arrest.

After yesterday's swatting, the bureau's Denver branch issued the following statement: "The FBI is aware of numerous swatting incidents wherein a report of an active shooter at a school is made. The FBI takes swatting very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk and drains law enforcement resources. Most swatting cases are handled by local and state law enforcement agencies. The FBI often provides resources and guidance in these investigations and can recommend cases for federal prosecution. FBI Denver is working with local law enforcement on some of these swatting incidents involving schools in our region."

Continue to see the Denver Police Department briefing about the swatting of Denver East:
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts