The home of a prominent critic of online bullying was raided by heavily armed police officers after someone phoned in a call falsely claiming that a man who had killed four people was inside, holding three others hostage.
The call, made from a computer that spoofed the number displayed on caller ID, prompted a tense, three-hour standoff at the New Jersey home of Parry Aftab. The founder of children's online safety groups WiredSafety and Stopcyberbullying.org, she has appeared regularly on national TV shows to talk about online taunting and smear campaigns directed at children.
Based on a Gawker article from last year, members of the 4chan website targeted Aftab on the same date last year after she spoke on Good Morning America about the bullying case of 11-year-old Jessi Slaughter of Florida. Shortly after her appearance, members of the site shut down her websites, vandalized her Wikipedia entry, and flooded Google search results with posts falsely claiming she was a child molester. They also distributed her phone number and address. Some users later claimed to have harassed her by phone.
On Saturday, a call to Wyckoff police purported to come from a man who claimed he killed four people inside Aftab's home, had wounded a young girl, and was holding two others hostage, Benjamin Fox, chief of the Wyckoff Police Department said. The number had been spoofed to appear as an out-of-state phone number that investigators later determined isn't registered to anyone, he said.
Officials responded by dispatching about 30 officers, some with automatic rifles and bulletproof vests, who stood in neighbors' yards and pointed their weapons at Aftab's home. Some of the officers were from the SWAT, or special weapons and tactics, team of Bergen County.
Aftab and her family were out of town at the time. Three hours later, once police had fired a teargas bomb into a window and stormed the house, authorities found only a cat. No one was harmed.
"There's a lot of accidents that can happen," Fox said of such hoax emergency calls. "You've got police officers running around with weapons. When it goes bad it can be really freaking bad."
Fox said the investigation is continuing, and that his department has received offers of assistance from the FBI and state officials.
The phenomenon of "swatting," in which miscreants make hoax calls claiming there is a home invasion in progress, has become a common way of exacting revenge on people they don't like. The practice seemed to fall out of favor following several high-profile prosecutions in 2009. Saturday's incident may be part of a resurgence. In June, a 15-year-old Xbox player from Florida was swatted after talking smack against an opponent.