By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Local first responders, including police, fire, the sheriff's department and a special-operations or SWAT team converged on Academy Street and Cleveland Place yesterday morning for what ended up being a fake call or "swatting."
Laconia Police Capt. Matt Canfield said police received a call a 9:13 a.m. in which a woman told the dispatcher she was being held by her boyfriend who had a gun to her head at 6 Cleveland Place. He said the call disconnected and when the dispatcher called back the number, it wasn't taking any incoming calls. A media release said the caller had a "thick foreign accent" and didn't seem overly familiar with the area.
He said all available duty officers except one responded to the area along with the Belknap County Sheriff's Department and the Belknap Regional Special Operation Group and the Laconia Fire Department went to the scene to stop all traffic and evacuate about 25 people from their homes in the freezing cold.
He said many of those affected went into the street wearing bed clothing and firefighters initially took them to Walgreens. He said plans were being made by the fire department and the Parks and Recreations Department to bring them to the Community Center before police realized it was a hoax at around 10:45 a.m.
Canfield said he and Police Chief Chris Adams, Fire Chief Ken Erickson and Belknap County Sheriff Lt. David Perkins were furious to learn they had been "swatted."
"Swatting" is a recent phenomenon where someone or deliberately reports a hoax crime with the intention of gathering SWAT teams and massive deployments of police officers at the same place at the same time. Occasionally it is directed a particular person to frighten them by having police descend on his or her home but, in this case, police believe it was just a hoax.
Canfield likened it to a fake bomb scare of old and said it's no funnier now than it was then. He said police were able to determine who owned the home and had to find him at his job in Alton before they learned there was nobody in the home to his knowledge.
He said sometimes people, even some in different countries, will do this randomly through computers.
Canfield said he told police how they could get into his house and police found nobody there. He said the victim appeared to be "totally baffled" by the swatting, that he came from Alton right away, and is cooperating completely with the investigation.
Erickson said many of his crews had already fought a one-alarm fire in the O'Shea Industrial Park and were already back out on multiple other calls, forcing him to call in additional staff.
Perkins said between his department and the special operations group, he had about 15 people deployed to the area, while Canfield said two members of a different shift plus a supervisor were called to police the rest of the city. He said about 20 Laconia officers responded so they mobilize to the call and shut down all of the neighborhood streets to pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
Canfield said they are calculating the cost of the response and hope that if the person or people behind it are caught and found guilty that they are ordered to pay restitution to the city and the county.
If anyone has any information about this incident they are asked to call the Laconia Police Department at 524-5252 or the Greater Laconia Police Line at 524-1717.
A furious Police Chief Chris Adams walks from yesterday's swatting hoax on Cleveland Place to discuss the matter with reporters gathered at the corner of Bowman and Academy Streets.