Three men face federal charges for swatting, including at Albany County’s airport

— Photo by Flyer 84

Albany International Airport was one of the targets of a swatting scheme for which three young men — from Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio — were indicted this month.

In an indictment unsealed on May 9, three young men were charged with a series of swatting incidents that included a shooting and bomb threat to the Albany International Airport.

A federal grand jury in Baltimore returned the indictment on May 7, according to a release from the United States Attorney's Office, District of Maryland. 

Owen Jarboe, 18, of Hagerstown, Maryland; Evan Strauss, 26, of Moneta, Virginia; and Brayden Grace, 18, of Columbus, Ohio, were charged with conspiracy, cyberstalking, interstate threatening communications, and threats to damage or destroy by means of fire and explosives.

According to the six-count superseding indictment, from approximately Dec. 10, 2023 through at least Jan. 18, 2024, Strauss, Jarboe, and Grace, “along with other conspirators, knowingly and unlawfully conspired to place and caused to be placed swatting calls to multiple police and emergency departments across the United States,” the release says. 

The superseding indictment alleges that the defendants were part of an online group known as “Purgatory” and that they used multiple online social media platforms, including Telegram and Instagram, to coordinate and plan their swatting activities and to announce swats that they had conducted.

“The defendants and their conspirators often used shared scripts to obfuscate their phone numbers and identities,” the release says.

A superseding indictment is one that amends and replaces the original indictment, listing the formal charges against a defendant. The new document usually adds charges or defendants to the case.

Aside from the threats against Albany County’s airport, other swatting incidents alleged in the superseding indictment include a threat to burn down a residential trailer park in Alabama; a shooting threat against a teacher and unnamed students at a high school in Delaware; a shooting and bomb threat against a casino in Ohio; and a multiple homicide event and shooting threat against individuals in a residence in Eastman, Georgia.

The term “swatting” was used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as early as 2008. The FBI  in February of that year wrote about “The New Phenomenon of ‘Swatting’,” detailing a group that had caused sports events and hotels to be evacuated because of fake bomb threats.

The FBI described swatting as “calling 9-1-1 and faking an emergency that draws a response from law enforcement — usually a SWAT team.”

A SWAT team is a Special Weapons And Tactics team called to high-risk situations.

The five swatters in the 2008 incidents were arrested by the FBI’s Dallas office, working with law-enforcement agencies in various parts of the country.

Kevin Kolbye, assistant special agent in charge of the Dallas office, when asked why the crime had been committed, said at the time, “Individuals did it for the bragging rights and ego, versus any monetary gain.”

“Basically, they did it because they could,” the FBI piece concluded.

If convicted, Strauss, Jarboe, and Grace each face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for each count of conspiracy, cyberstalking, and interstate threat and a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on each charge to damage or destroy by means of fire and explosive, the release says, noting that actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.

United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the FBI Baltimore Field Office for its work in the investigation and praised the Joint Terrorism Task Force along with a long list of local police agencies, including Albany Police Department, and the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.

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