Coquitlam teen admits to swatting

A Coquitlam teen who prompted numerous “swatting” incidents last year on families around Canada and the U.S. pleaded guilty last week to a dozen more charges.

The 17-year-old, who cannot be identified under a publication ban because of his age, has now admitted to a total of 23 offences of extortion, public mischief and criminal harassment.
In a day-long sentencing hearing at Port Coquitlam provincial court last Friday, Crown prosecutor Michael Bauer outlined how the teen had terrorized mostly young, female gamers and their parents, in B.C., Minnesota, Utah, Arizona, Ohio and California.

He had a consistent pattern of trying to connect with the online gamers — many of them fans of the game League of Legends. But when they denied his requests, he shut down their internet access, posted their personal information online, repeatedly called them late at night and contacted the police in their hometown, posing as someone else.

Often, he would tell the police he was holding a family hostage, had napalm bombs or had killed someone in the house. He would demand a ransom, order a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team — hence the term "swatting" — to show up with a police helicopter, or say he would kill any law enforcement official who intervened, Bauer said.

The teen, who went under the same social media user or name (or a variation of it), would also retaliate by posting a target's parents’ dates of birth, and social insurance and credit card numbers on the web, and had pizza which they had not ordered delivered to their home.

Bauer spent more than an hour outlining the Arizona case, in which a young woman was forced to withdraw from her semester at the University of Arizona in Tucson because she became anxious after the teen relentlessly pursued and threatened her and her parents.

On Sept. 16, 2014, after she repeatedly rejected him, the teen called the Tucson police to prompt a swat of her home, claiming he had shot his parents with an AR15 rifle, had bombs and would kill the police if he saw any marked vehicles.

Five days later, he pulled the same prank while her mother was visiting, as well as swatted her parents’ home in Phoenix, identifying himself as the woman’s brother and telling the police department there: “I shot my parents with an AR15 rifle.” Police and a helicopter were on scene within minutes and the father and son were removed from the home at gunpoint.

The Phoenix hoax generated news stories and the Coquitlam teen posted a link to an article on his Twitter feed, “bragging he made the call,” Bauer said.

The next month, the teen sent the woman a message to inform all her parents’ credit card information was online. Three days late, the teen used a program to send his victim 218 text messages simultaneously, the court heard.

And last December, the teen hacked into the woman's University of Arizona email and Twitter accounts.

The teen tweeted out the families’ personal information, including their social insurance numbers, and called companies posing as the woman’s father. He tried to cancel utilities and the internet to the parents’ home, and signed the woman up for a new phone service at a cost of $500 a month for the data plan.

On Dec. 1, 2014, just days before he was arrested by Coquitlam RCMP, the teen posted an eight-hour live stream of himself on YouTube that captured him tormenting and swatting his victims.

Bauer said many people watching the online stream notified police when the teen prompted a swat of a home in Grove City, Ohio.

In that instance, the caller told the dispatcher he was a retired FBI agent, had a family of five held hostage with an AR15 rifle and had planted bombs around the home.

The teen demanded a $20,000 ransom and threatened to kill the family if his orders weren’t met. About seven hours later — after the father walked out of the home to see armed officers surrounding it — the police department ruled it a false report.

In the Minnesota case, the parents of the young victim told Coquitlam RCMP that the release of their online personal details resulted in people across the U.S. trying to open bank accounts in their names. It destroyed their credit rating.

Bauer said the teen's victims were frightened of his cyberbullying. "All of his actions had a strong impact on their livelihood," he told the judge.

Bauer said the teen had gained a notorious online reputation. By November 2014, when he targeted three Newport Beach, Cali., gamers, a victim who had declined his Twitter request notified her hometown police after the teen telephoned her home; she believed she was going to be swatted like other League of Legends followers, too.

Her instincts proved right: As police were driving to her residence to investigate the complaint, the teen called the Newport police dispatch to say he had a family of five held hostage with an AR15 rifle and bombs. When the dispatcher told him about the prank warning, he responded, “OK” and hung up.

In the Utah case, the dispatcher suspected the teen had a mental illness when he claimed he was at his ex-girlfiend’s home and had her family tied up. The police chief attended their home to find the family at the dining room table, unharmed.

When the teen attempted a second swatting of the home the next day, Coquitlam RCMP were notified and they verified it was a local teen.

This past March and last November, the teen also admitted to a bomb hoax that prompted the Space Mountain ride in Disneyland to shut down last year. During those two court appearances, he pleaded guilty to harassment, extortion, uttering threats, breach of recognizance and seven counts of mischief.

Last Friday, Judge Patricia Janzen ordered a second psychiatric assessment of the teen, who has since been charged with a total of 40 crimes. As of today (Wednesday), he has been remanded for 169 days.

Wearing a sweatsuit, no shoes and shackles on his ankles, the teen smirked but showed little emotion during the proceeding, though often flipped his hair, drummed his fingers on his knees or pumped his leg quickly.

His parents and brother were in court to hear the key facts from the Crown, which has asked the judge to impose no contact orders on three victims — two of whom are from B.C.
The sentencing hearing will continue June 29.

jwarren@tricitynews.com

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