A Seattle man has been arrested for making over 20 "swatting" calls across the United States and Canada, which prompted real emergency responses to fake reports of shootings, bombs or other threats.
Using VOIP to conceal his identity, 20-year-old Ashton Connor Garcia of Bremerton broadcast his calls over Discord for entertainment, according to federal prosecutors, which have slapped him with 10 felony counts filed in the US District Court in Tacoma, Washington.
Garcia could spend up to a decade in prison if found guilty.
"Every time Mr. Garcia is alleged to have made one of his false reports to law enforcement, he triggered a potentially deadly event—sending heavily armed police officers to an address where they mistakenly believed they would confront someone who was armed and dangerous," said Seattle US Attorney Nick Brown in a Thursday press release.
"Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the unpredictable and terrifying dynamic these calls created for Mr. Garcia’s alleged victims cannot be overstated."
Garcia’s arrest came as a spate of threats and false reports of shooters have been pouring into schools and colleges across the country, unnerving officials, parents and students who are already on edge about actual school shootings—including at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, this week.
Computer-generated calls on Wednesday made hoax claims about active shooters in Pennsylvania, and a day earlier, nearly 30 Massachusetts schools received fake threats. -AP
Specifically, the indictment charges Garcia with these crimes:
Extortion – Ohio: On July 17, 2022, allegedly demanded credit card information or would injure the reputation of the victim, their family, would leak nude photos, and “swat them.”
Threats and Hoaxes -Ohio: On July 22, 2022, allegedly made a swatting call to the Shaker Heights Police Department falsely alleging his father was holding the family hostage with firearms and a hand grenade.
Threats and Hoaxes – Ohio: On July 28, 2022, allegedly called the Cleveland Police Department falsely claiming he had planted a bomb at the Fox News station in Cleveland.
Hoaxes regarding firearms – California: On July 29, 2022, allegedly called the Los Angeles Police Department falsely claiming his father was raping his sister, that his father had lots of guns and was both mentally ill and a drug addict.
Interstate threats – Kentucky: on July 30, 2022, allegedly called the Kentucky State Police threatening to kill named hostages.
Hoaxes regarding aircraft – California: on August 23, 2022, allegedly called the Los Angeles Police and claimed his daughter told him there was a bomb on her flight from Honolulu to LAX.
Extortion – New jersey: on August 24, 2022, allegedly attempted to obtain photographs and videos of a minor female’s body by threatening to accuse a family member of a crime and “swat” them.
Threats and hoaxes regarding explosives – Michigan: allegedly reported to the Milan Michigan Police Department that his father was holding him hostage with a gun and bomb.
Threats and hoaxes – Tennessee: on September 2, 2022, allegedly called the Milan, Tennessee Police Department alleging he was being held hostage by his father who had a gun and bomb.
Threats and hoaxes regarding explosives – California: allegedly called Los Angeles Police Department alleging he had stashed four pounds of C4 explosives at an airport in Los Angeles and would detonate it unless he was paid $200,000 in bitcoin.
According to prosecutors, Garcia collected personal information about his victims and threatened to send emergency responses to their homes unless they paid a ransom of money or credit card information. He also threatened to release sexually explicit images.
Authorities said that in some cases, law enforcement entered homes with guns drawn and detained people inside.
In other cases, Garcia called in fake bomb scares, including at the Fox News station in Cleveland, Ohio, and on July 28 for an August 23 flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles. In another instance, he threatened to bomb a Los Angeles airport unless he was sent $200,000 in bitcoin.
According to the indictment, Garcia called agencies in California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oho, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington and Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada.