GPD charges 14-year-old in swatting at Crossgates

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
At about 1 p.m. on Friday, police were stationed on the ring road outside Crossgates Mall in Guilderland as a helicopter circled overhead.

GUILDERLAND — A helicopter flew overhead and police cars and ambulances were parked in lots outside of Guilderland’s Crossgates Mall on Friday afternoon.

The resources were deployed after a fake emergency call of a shooting in a mall parking lot was made to Guilderland Police at about 12:34 p.m.

Mall visitors continued with their shopping, eating, and entertainment unaware of the unfounded threat.

This was markedly different from when there had been actual shootings, and shoppers streamed from the mall as masses of law enforcement descended.

“This report has been confirmed to be a ‘swatting’ incident and the suspect is in custody,” the Guilderland Police wrote in a release at about 2 p.m. on Friday. “No shooting occurred and there are no safety concerns for the public in regards to this incident.”

A Saturday release added a few more details: The caller reported two people were shot in the Macy’s parking lot and the suspect fled on foot into nearby woods.

“This information was quickly determined to be false,” the release said. A 14-year-old male from Albany was taken into custody and charged with third-degree falsely reporting an incident. His name was not released because of his age. He was referred to the Albany County Probation Department and released into the custody of a relative.

Last month, a number of schools had been swatted locally — and across the state and nation. While the Guilderland schools were not targeted, Superintendent Marie Wiles said at the time that school administrators had met with Guilderland Police Chief Daniel McNally as well as the district’s two school resource officers and others to develop guidelines for responding if need be.

On Friday, Westmere Elementary School, which is about 3 miles from Crossgates Mall, was “placed in a brief lockout at the direction of the Guilderland Police Department due to an investigation they were conducting at Crossgates Mall.” according to a notice emailed to “GCSD Families” at 2:18 p.m. and also posted to the district’s website.

The notice went on to explain, “During the lockout, students and staff continued with normal school activities; however, no one was allowed to enter or leave the building. At no time were students or staff in any danger.

“The Guilderland PD has since lifted the need for the lockout and dismissal will happen at 1:50 p.m., as usual.”

On April 10, Senator Charles Schumer held a press conference in front of Troy High School, which had been swatted, calling for the FBI to comprehensively investigate swatting incidents at schools.

Schumer said that the week before police had to go to over 220 schools because of the false threats, stretching resources thin for local first responders.

While swatting has been around for a while, Schumer said, it used to be rare. “These recent attacks are unprecedented,” he said, noting a particular concentration in the Capital Region.

“We eventually can find out where the swatters are but there is no guarantee and perhaps not even a likelihood they are from the Capital Region, that they’re even from New York State, that they’re even from America, from the U.S.,” said Schumer.

Hence, he said, a federal approach should be used to crack the cases. He said he would push to secure $10 million for the FBI in a three-pronged approach. The first is the FBI would launch a full-scale investigation. The second prong would be computer and cyber work, which would be systemic rather than ad hoc.

The third prong would be to track all the school swatting incidents in the last several years to put together a comprehensive dossier to see where similar patterns and techniques are used.

“They don’t track them now,” Schumer said of the FBI.

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.

The current investigation for Friday’s swatting incident at Crossgates Mall is ongoing, said the Guilderland Police, urging anyone with information to contact Investigator Matthew Hanzalik at 518-356-1501.

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