On Sunday, April 11, a bomb threat in Kiowa County prompted a response from local law enforcement with the Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office as well as six other assisting agencies, resulting in the county being in lock down for roughly two hours. The incident is being viewed as a “swatting” call, according to a Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office press release sent out on Monday afternoon.
Swatting (SWAT – ting) refers to a person deliberately calling in a false report to local authorities of a significant event in progress at a specific location, such as a shooter or someone being held hostage or a bomb set to detonate, specifically for the purpose of eliciting the largest emergency response possible.
At approximately 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, a male called dispatch in Bent County, stating a man in a vehicle in the 1300 block of Maine Street was “armed with a rifle, explosives, and demanding money. If demands were not met, the caller stated, he would blow up the building and go on a killing spree.”
Later, after listening to the audio file of the call, Kiowa County Sheriff Casey Sheridan said there was more than likely another individual with the caller, coaching them on what to say.
KCSO deputies immediately secured the area and set up a perimeter. At approximately 5:00 p.m. an emergency notification was sent out to all residents of Kiowa County, stating there was “a bomb threat” and instructing residents to stay in their homes.
The situation required that the Plains Theater, which had a 6pm movie scheduled, had to close as well as the Maine Scoop Ice Cream Shop and the Hometown Gas ‘n Grill.
Deputies from Baca County, Bent County and Prowers County Sheriffs’ Offices came on scene to assist as well as the Kiowa County Fire Protection District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado State Patrol.
For the next two hours, the area was in lock down while KCSO deputies and other law enforcement officials were on the scene, including the Bent County SWAT team who “cleared the vehicle and structures in the area.”
After a thorough search uncovered neither explosive devices nor anyone matching the description, the “all clear” message was sent out at 7:16 p.m.
At 8:00 p.m., the Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office posted a message on their Facebook page, stating, “It is suspected this was a ‘swatting’ incident. KCSO is in contact with the FBI, and at this time several incidents are being investigated all over the State of Colorado including one in Pueblo and several in Denver. KCSO will release more information regarding the incident tomorrow.”
At this time, Sheriff Sheridan does not believe the caller was local. “There are open circuit cameras of Maine Street that can be seen by anyone online,” he says. He further added that the call was made directly to the Public Service Answering Provider (PSAP) – Bent County dispatch – but it has not been determined if the caller was using a “spoofed” device, which would mask his identity. Sheridan did say that if a Google phone was used, tracing the call to its origins would be more difficult. The FBI is assisting KCSO in this effort.
When asked to comment on the swift and strong response of sister agencies to the threat, Sheridan explained that Kiowa County is part of a Mutual Aide Agreement between area counties. “If there is a call for help, mutual aide will come,” he says. The agreement allows for agencies to help each other at no charge, based on a shared understanding that budgets are tight and resources are lean.
In a show of good will, Sheridan offered food and fuel before agencies headed home but there were no takers.
As it turns out, the incident in Kiowa County was part of what appears to be a recent spate of swatting incidents in the state. Sunday, while the threat was still active, Sheridan called the Pueblo bomb squad who agreed to come if a device was found but were already in the middle of their own swatting incident. He later learned that there were reports of swatting in Lone Tree and Denver on Sunday, as well, along with one report earlier in the week in Boulder and another in Greeley.
Sheridan wants to stress that False Reporting is a Class 3 misdemeanor which involves jail time. False Reporting of Explosives is a Class 6 misdemeanor, which involves significant jail time, as well.
Swatting has been identified by the FBI as a public threat since 2008. Typically, it was associated with the gaming community that has the ability to interact online – including placing phone calls -- anonymously. However, in recent years, it’s expanded beyond gamers to people motivated by other things, such as those wishing to pull a “prank” on someone to hackers wishing to boast about the size of response from Emergency Responders or, in a darker vein, those who have used swatting as a form of revenge against someone who has angered them.
Swatting can – and has -- led to serious injury and, in some cases, death and is subject to prosecution by both state and federal authorities. It is estimated that roughly 400 cases of swatting occur each year.
In 2009, a 19-year-old man was sentenced to 11 years in prison for several charges, including a swatting conspiracy that targeted certain individuals in retaliation for perceived wrongs.
In 2017, two gamers – one located in California and the other in Ohio -- got into an online feud. The California based gamer threatened to have the other “swatted” and, in response, was given a false address in Wichita, Kansas of a man who knew neither of the gamers and was uninvolved in the situation. When the Wichita Police Department received the call, they were told that a man at that address had just killed a member of his family and was holding the others hostage. They immediately responded to the scene just as the occupant, a 28-year-old father of two, was coming outside. He was shot and killed by a Wichita policeman.
The man who made the call was subsequently charged with involuntary manslaughter as well as other crimes and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
There have been recent incidents of swatting in Colorado, as well. In January, Fountain Police responded to a call that turned out to be a swatting incident as did police in Colorado Springs last month. Fortunately, no one was injured in either case, but law enforcement officials in both cases state they are taking the incidents very seriously.
In regards to Sunday, KCSO says “This incident is still under Investigation with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”