Police in Washington have accused a man of making more than 20 hoax emergency calls throughout the U.S. and Canada as part of a three-month “swatting” campaign that was broadcast as entertainment online.
Ashton Connor Garcia, 20, of Bremerton, Wash., was arrested on Thursday and charged with ten federal felonies related to his alleged illegal harassing activity, as per a statement from the United States Attorney’s Office.
Garcia allegedly made the swatting calls — an illegal practice of reporting false crimes to deceive emergency services and harass innocent people — between June and early September of 2022. The calls targeted victims in California, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington, as well as Edmonton, Alta.
Before making the calls, Garcia demanded money, virtual currency, credit card information or sexually explicit photos from some of the victims.
Garcia, who reportedly self-identified as a “cyberterrorist” online, would broadcast his swatting calls on the social media platform Discord. Authorities claim he would report numerous fake crimes including false bomb threats, murder, rape and kidnapping.
“Frequently he used the same scripts claiming that his father was holding him hostage, false claims that he shot his parents, false claims that his father stabbed his mother, and false claims that his father had raped female members of the family,” reads the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement.
Garcia reportedly used “voice over internet technology” to hide his identity when making swatting calls.
The swatting not only “tied up law enforcement resources,” but also resulted in numerous victims being detained by armed police entering their private residences. None of the victims were hurt as a result of the 20-plus swatting calls allegedly placed by Garcia.
“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 U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in the statement.
“Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the unpredictable and terrifying dynamic these calls created for Mr. Garcia’s alleged victims cannot be overstated. There is nothing funny about abusing emergency resources and intentionally placing people in harm’s way.”
The charges against Garcia include extortion and threats and hoaxes regarding firearms and aircraft. The charges could result in a 10-year prison sentence.
In one instance, Garcia allegedly called in fake bomb scares for a Fox News station in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 28, and placed a similar threat for a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles on Aug. 23. In another instance, he is accused of threatening to bomb an airport in Los Angeles unless he received $200,000 in Bitcoin.
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 one at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tenn., earlier 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.
— With files from The Associated Press
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