A hoaxer who triggered a massive police response after falsely reporting he killed his mother and was threatening to shoot more people was engaging in a prank called “swatting,” authorities say.
Police received a call at about 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon from a person who identified himself as Rafael Castillo, a 17-year-old from Long Beach, N.Y.
“I just killed my mother and I might shoot more people,” the person said, according to police.
The threat prompted Nassau County police to scramble helicopters and send a SWAT team to Castillo’s home, leading to a two-hour standoff that involved more than 60 officers, some with guns drawn.
But it turned out the call was made by a disgruntled gamer who had just been eliminated by Castillo while playing the video game “Call of Duty” — a prank known in the gaming world as swatting, in which losers exact revenge on winners by getting police to respond to the winner’s home.
When police arrived, they found Castillo’s mother, 54-year-old Maria Castillo, making coffee in the kitchen. Castillo himself did not immediately respond because he was in his room still playing the game with headphones on.
“He didn’t realize anything was going on — he couldn’t hear anything,” Castillo’s brother, Jose, told the New York Post. “I told him, ‘There’s a bunch of cops outside that are looking for you.'”
When he emerged, Castillo, a high school junior, realized he had become a swatting victim.
“I right away had an idea what it was, because I’ve seen it on the news,” Castillo said.
Long Island police said they’re aware of the swatting phenomenon.
“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,” Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney told CBS New York. “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.”
While police “felt very early on that it was a hoax,” Tangney said, “we don’t take any shortcuts.”
Investigators are now working to identify the alleged hoaxer.
“If we determine who made this call, there will be an arrest,” Tangney told the Long Island Herald. “He did something so, so foolish, and so dangerous. I’m very angry — it’s a tremendous waste of taxpayer resources, it’s a tremendous danger to law enforcement.”
Castillo’s mother said the time has now come for him to put down the “Call of Duty” controller.
“The kid played too much,” she told WPIX-TV. “Go work. He’s 17, he can work.”