Police are now saying that the call they received at about 2:30 p.m. that a graduate student had shot his girlfriend in a Northwestern University dormitory was a hoax.
Until it was ascertained that there was no danger, Evanston police and University officials warned people to stay away from the area just north of downtown around Emerson Street and Maple Avenue because of reports of a person with a gun. Portions of the University were put on lockdown, as was Evanston Township High School.
At 3:16 p.m., when the Evanston Police issued an all-clear bulletin, ETHS resumed normal operations, according to information from the school.
At 4:27 p.m., a tweet from the Evanston Police Department stated, “The incident at Emerson and Maple was swatting incident. No victims or danger to the public. Area is secure. Police and Fire are clearing the area.”
Police Chief Richard Eddington told the RoundTable that any time the Police Department receives a call about a person with a gun or a person’s having been shot, the Department mobilizes to address that. In this incident, he said, the caller said he had shot his girlfriend/significant other with a rifle. There were “multiple calls from the offender,” he said, and some of the information did not add up. Evanston and Northwestern Police ran concurrent investigations both to locate the potential/purported shooter and to ensure that the persons the caller named were in fact safe.
“We had to do due diligence to make sure we hadn’t missed anything” before issuing the “All Clear” bulletin, he said. “A lot of very talented, very controlled Evanston Police and Northwestern University Police officers handled the situation,” he added.
Nationwide, swatting callers use “language and events” to try to get police departments to mobilize their SWAT or emergency teams. Tracing the calls is not easy, because the callers have many ways to disguise their location and their identity.
“If you look at swatting across the country,” Chief Eddington said, “there’s a certain level of sophistication. It’s a brave new world, with the Internet and other resources.” The swatting callers appear to research an area and use enough facts, names, and locations to make the call credible.
Like all swatting calls, the one here tied up a considerable amount of police resources, the Chief said. “Swatting calls are a huge waste of public resources and are horrifically dangerous. Many officers in speeding cars converge on the scene. There have been several tragic events nationwide over swatting calls when individuates were engaged by the police departments,” he added.
Asked whether this swatting call was tied to the nationwide walkout against gun violence, Chief Eddington said police feel at this time there was a different motivation but declined to talk further about possible motives.