Police in Palo Alto, California received a phone call on Tuesday night from a man who reportedly claimed to be a Facebook executive who had shot his wife and was holding hostages in his home. A rapid response team arrived at the scene and eventually determined the exec was the victim of a hoax.
According to a press release issued by the city of Palo Alto, a police dispatcher received the call around 9:00PM on Tuesday night from a blocked number. The caller claimed he shot his wife, tied up his children, and had multiple pipe bombs in his possession. He warned that any police who attempted to intervene would be harmed.
The Palo Alto Daily Post spoke with Police Agent Marianna Villaescusa, who explained that the caller used the name of a Facebook cybersecurity executive. A team of police officers and crisis negotiators quickly arrived at the executive’s home and used a loudspeaker to request that he step outside. The confused victim complied with the request and explained that he didn’t understand what was happening.
After police handcuffed the man and an unidentified woman who was present at the scene, they searched the residence and determined the call was a hoax.
Palo Alto Police told Gizmodo that they could not immediately confirm Villaescusa’s claim that the victim was a Facebook exec. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment, however Ars Technica reported that the company offered the following statement.
We thank the city of Palo Alto for their swift and thoughtful response. They quickly identified this as a prank, and we are glad that our colleague and his family are safe.
According to Villaescusa’s account, the hoaxer stayed on the line with police until 10:02PM and police weren’t able to determine his identity.
Villaescusa, who works as a negotiator for the department, said there have been a number of swatting incidents in the region over the last 18 months. Most recently, a hoaxer targeted a “high-profile person in the cryptocurrency world”, according to The Daily Post.
Calling in fake emergencies with the goal of sending a massive police presence to a victim’s home is an incredibly dangerous crime. Victims have been murdered by responding officers in the past.
We’ve asked Facebook if it is aware of the caller’s motive but had not received a response at time of writing.