Steamboat Springs The Routt County Sheriff’s Office this week released audio recordings and more details related to the prank phone call that led SWAT team members to force their way into a home with two unsuspecting residents inside.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation refers to such incidents as swatting, and there have been numerous cases in the United States in recent years.
“Sometimes swatting is done for revenge, sometimes as a prank,” the FBI’s website states. “Either way, it is a serious crime, and one that has potentially dangerous consequences.”
Sheriff Garrett Wiggins shares those concerns and is disturbed that someone chose Routt County, where there are many gun owners prepared to defend themselves.
Wiggins also is concerned about copycats, people who learn about the prank and then decide to do one themselves.
“My fear is that someone is going to get hurt or killed,” Wiggins said.
That could include the victim of the prank or a law enforcement officer.
On the night of May 28, an upset male caller contacted Denver Police Dispatch and said he had shot his mother and brother.
“It’s very convincing,” Wiggins said.
After providing an address, the Denver dispatcher learned the caller was not in the area. The caller stated he was using an iPod to make the phone call, and Denver dispatch was the only number he could dial on the iPod.
The caller gave his address as 31445 Shoshone Way and pronounced the street like “show shown.” The caller also said he was calling from Oak Creek. Shoshone Way is located in the Stagecoach area, but residents there have Oak Creek postal addresses.
“I still have the gun,” the caller said. “I didn’t mean to shoot her.”
The caller said his mom still was breathing, and her eyes were closed.
“She said she was going to tell my dad that I was doing drugs, and I panicked,” the caller said.
The caller also said the brother had been shot, and initially the caller said he was dead. Later, he said the brother had been shot in the shoulder and still was alive.
The dispatcher told the caller he was trying to get information so he could send people to help the caller’s family members.
“If the cops come in and try to take me, I will shoot,” the caller said. “I’m shooting anybody.”
The caller said the house he was at belonged to his aunt, and he provided her name.
The dispatch recordings show that Denver dispatch tried to contact Oak Creek police, but they got an answering machine. Denver dispatch then relayed the information to Routt County Communications. Wiggins thought they were dealing with either a multiple homicide or hostage situation. What ensued was an incident that Wiggins said could have been avoided in multiple ways.
Wiggins said the SWAT team, referred to locally as the Combined Emergency Response Team, gathered at the Stagecoach fire station. Wiggins said the caller provided the name of a person who they knew lived in the house.
“As we’re verifying information and getting eyes on the house, a lot of the information that we’re receiving is verified,” Wiggins said.
With bad cellphone coverage in the area, it also was understandable why the person was calling for help using an Internet service.
At the house, officers found a pickup running with its lights on and detained a man.
“We ended up taking this guy at gunpoint,” Wiggins said.
They later learned the man was a neighbor who had learned about the reported shooting from a volunteer firefighter, who thought the neighbor should know what was happening and was told to lock their doors and stay in the house.
“It’s something we feel should not have taken place,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins said they called two cellphone numbers and a landline associated with the residence, and no one answered. SWAT officers entered the house from the front and back using a dynamic entry. The doors were broken and flash bangs were used to disorient those inside. SWAT officers found a couple inside the home.
“They’re scared to death, but there is nobody shot, nobody laying on the floor,” Wiggins said.
After talking to the residents, it was clear they were dealing with a prank phone call.
Then the frustration set in.
Wiggins said the concerned neighbor taken at gunpoint outside the residence had knocked on the doors and windows trying to get in the house. Wiggins said that after the incident, the residents said their dog was barking, and they thought someone was trying to break in, but they did not try to find out what was going on or call 911.
“They couldn’t give me an explanation,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins also was frustrated that the residents ignored their phone calls.
He said the residents were renting the home and were in the process of moving out.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today called the phone number associated with the residence, but the number was disconnected.
Wiggins said he told the residents that the county would cover the cost of the damage.
“They understood, and they looked back and said, 'We could have done this, we could have done that,'” Wiggins said.
Wiggins said they did everything they could to verify the threat.
“We had no idea this was a prank call,” Wiggins said. “We thought this was the real deal.”
The Sheriff's Office had responded to the quiet area before for violent crimes. On the same night exactly one year ago in the same neighborhood, 9-year-old Asher Lesyshen-Kirlan was shot and killed by his mother, Lisa Lesyshen, who since has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
It is thought that the caller was using Skype to make the call. Like in other swatting cases, the call is not easily traceable. Wiggins said no suspect has been identified, and they are working with federal law enforcement agencies to find the person responsible.
“Since we first warned about this phone hacking phenomenon in 2008, the FBI has arrested numerous individuals on federal charges stemming from swatting incidents, and some are currently in prison,” the FBI’s website states.
Anyone with information can call the Routt County Sheriff’s Office at 970-870-5503. Those wishing to remain anonymous can call Routt County Crime Stoppers at 970-870-6226.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland