A 17-year old has admitted to 23 charges of extortion, public mischief and criminal harassment, following a string of swatting attacks across the US and Canada. The Canadian teen was charged with terrorising “mostly young, female gamers and their parents” – many of whom he met playing League of Legends.
The 17-year old from Coquitlam cannot be named because of his age. He faced a day-long sentencing late last week, which addressed charges covering BC, Minnesota, Utah, Arizona, Ohio and California.
Crown prosecutor Michael Bauer told the court the teen had “a consistent pattern” of trying to make friends (or more intimate relationships) with gamers online. When faced with inevitable rejection, he then made repeated late-night phonecalls, shut down their internet access, and posted personal information online. Turning his attention to the girl’s parents, he would post dates of birth, social insurance numbers and credit card details online, as well as the tried-and-true prank of ordering extravagant pizzas to be delivered.
More seriously though, he would also contact local police, claiming to be holding a family hostage in the girl’s homes, announcing he had killed someone in the house, or declaring he had explosives at that address. Bauer explained that he would order a SWAT team to show up with a police helicopter, demand a ransom, or promise to kill any law enforcement official who intervened.
Local media has more details of the teen’s activities: He claimed to be a retired FBI agent, holding a family hostage (again with an AR15 rifle), with bombs planted around the house. He posted a Minnesota family’s personal details online and destroyed their credit rating as people across the country tried to open bank accounts in their names. He claimed to be in a Utah home where he had tied up his ex-girlfriend’s family. He used software to send hundreds of text messages simultaneously to his victim’s phone, and hacked personal email addresses and Twitter accounts so that his victims could broadcast their own personal details.
Bauer explained the teen’s victims – and presumably their parents – were “frightened” of the teen’s cyberbullying, to the point where at least one was forced to withdraw from her college studies due to extreme anxiety.
All of his actions had a strong impact on their livelihood,” he told the judge.
The most serious charge involved a girl in Arizona, who rejected the teen several times before he took action. In this case, he called the Tucson police and claimed he had shot his parents with an AR15 rifle at her address. He told law enforcement that he had explosives primed to go off, and would kill the police if he saw any marked vehicles. Less than a week later, he tried the same approach, using the girl’s family home as the address. Police arrived there within minutes, and escorted the girl’s father and brother from the house at gunpoint.
The Arizona case attracted a significant amount of media attention – to the point where the teenager actually tweeted a link to an article, bragging that “he made the call”.
Growing increasingly cocky, the teen hosted an eight-hour livestream showing him tormenting and swatting his victims – with many viewers contacting the police when they worked out he wasn’t kidding. The teenager was arrested just a few days later.
It got to the point where a potential Californian victim contacted her local police after simply declining a Twitter request, because she believed she would be swatted like the other LoL players. She was right – even as police were travelling to her home, the teen had called dispatch to report a family of five held hostage.
…and it’s not just gaming. Twice in the past year – once in November and once in March – the same teen admitted to bomb hoaxes that shut down the Space Mountain ride in Disneyland. For those incidents, he faced charges of harassment, extortion, uttering threats, breach of recognizance and seven counts of mischief.
The teen has now been charged with more than 40 crimes and remanded in custody for 169 days. Judge Patricia Janzen has ordered a psychiatric evaluation. Sentencing continues, June 29.