Reported shooting a hoax by online gamer
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Rafael Castillo’s brother, Jose, 21, had briefly left the house to buy food, and said he returned to see police descending on his home. “I got back, everyone was here,” he said. “I was like, ‘My brother’s inside.’”
After police and Jose repeatedly called Rafael’s phone, he eventually became aware of what was going on. After he came outside, police questioned the family, Tangney said, and a SWAT team could be seen entering the home with guns drawn to conduct a search. The second floor apartment of the two-story home is vacant, Tangney said, but it was initially unclear whether anyone was living there.
“When we extracted [the Castillos] from the house,” Tangney added, “their story was very believable right from the get-go.”
He explained that investigators determined that the call reporting a shooting was a hoax — what’s known as “swatting,” when a gamer falsely reports a serious incident that prompts an emergency response.
“My little brother … has a couple of friends he plays with,” Jose Castillo said. “They won a game, and someone on the other team decided … to get his information — his IP address — and called the cops saying that he killed me and my mom. He didn’t do anything wrong. He’s not even a major gamer — he plays with friends, and someone I guess got mad at him and did this. I asked him … and he said he didn’t know anything.”
While some episodes of swatting have drawn bomb squads and SWAT teams, others may take the form of a single fabricated police report meant to discredit someone as a prank or personal vendetta. “It’s a nationwide epidemic right now, where people play video games, and if you lose the video game, you try to develop information about the person you’re playing, their address and such,” Tangney said. “And then we send this army of police personnel out. In this bizarre world of swatting, you get points for the helicopters, police cars, the SWAT team and the type of entry. It’s very sophisticated, and unfortunately it’s also very dangerous.
“We felt very early on that it was a hoax,” Tangney added. “We take it very [seriously] from the beginning — we don’t take any shortcuts, we don’t endanger the officers, we don’t endanger the public. We do everything by a strict code.”