Someone sent Montgomery County Police scrambling to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer’s Bethesda home on Saturday with a made-up tip claiming shots had been fired in the house.
Within 15 minutes, Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesperson, said an Emergency Call Center supervisor had figured out the tip was a hoax, but one that Starks said could have been dangerous and was a waste of the department’s resources.
“It puts people in danger,” Starks said. “You had police and fire units dispatched to this address, lights and sirens on, and so that’s where there’s potential danger. In some of these instances, not here, but in others people have actually confronted people in the home or address, which was a potential situation where somebody could get hurt.”
The practice is called swatting, a false report of an incident, usually involving celebrities, to get police to dispatch to a location.
On Saturday, police raced to Blitzer’s home near Congressional Country Club. Starks said the call center supervisor “used some non-traditional means” to verify the report by calling CNN. He was routed to CNN security, which confirmed neither Blitzer nor anyone else who lives at the house was home.
By 7:30 p.m., the only vehicles on the quiet residential street were satellite news trucks looking for a story that didn’t exist.
Breaking News Network, a service that monitors police and fire scanner traffic and sends email updates to many of the area’s news networks, sent out an email about the incident at 7:09 p.m.:
MD| Montgomery| Potomac| *Police Activity*| I/V/O Holly Leaf Lane| Mcpd O/S with reported shots fired. This is at the home of tv news anchor wolf blitzer. PD have a perimeter set up. Bethesda district PD channel-2
Starks said investigators will pursue the origin of the hoax.
“These type of things, initially we don’t know where they’re coming in but because of technology being the way it is, there are bread crumbs,” Starks said. “There are clues and footprints left, if you will, for investigators to track back on.”
Other cases of swatting include Hollywood celebrities and conservative blogger and former CNN contributor Erick Erickson. In that January 2012 incident, the caller claims to be Erickson and says he has shot his wife.