A Facebook employee in Palo Alto was the target of a hoax emergency call to police that triggered a significant law enforcement response to his home, authorities said.
A caller claiming to be the employee phoned the Palo Alto Police Department on Tuesday night and falsely reported that he had shot his wife inside their home, tied up his children and was in possession of pipe bombs, authorities said.
Officers including trained crisis negotiators surrounded the house, and two residents who “had no idea” what was going on came outside, Palo Alto police said in a news release.
“Officers entered the home and confirmed that no crime had occurred, there were no pipe bombs, and in fact, there were no children present,” the department said in a release. “The entire call was a hoax, and the suspect had falsely impersonated the actual resident by using his name.”
The Palo Alto Daily Post first reported the incident. A Palo Alto police spokeswoman did not identify the victim and said police were still investigating why he had been targeted.
“We thank the city of Palo Alto for their swift and thoughtful response,” Facebook spokesman Anthony Harrison said in a statement. Police “quickly identified this as a prank, and we are glad that our colleague and his family are safe.”
Palo Alto police said whoever made the call used an “untraceable” number. That person could face multiple criminal charges as well as potential civil liability to recoup the cost of the police response.
“Hoax threats such as this are not only criminal in nature, but they also create a great deal of stress and anxiety for neighbors,” the department said in a news release. “The law enforcement response to this incident took officers away from their other important duties and calls.”
The practice of calling police to report a fake, dangerous situation in order to trigger a massive police response is sometimes referred to as “swatting.”