Last Modified: Tuesday, February 05, 2013 10:07 PM
OBERLIN — The parents of a 14-year-old Oberlin boy say their family and local law enforcement agencies were the victims of a hoax after a hacker made a bogus 911 call using personal information from the boy’s online game account.
David Dunnehoo said his family was held at gunpoint by police after a disgruntled online game opponent made a prank call to police telling them Dunnehoo had killed his wife.
The incident, which mostly targets celebrities, is what authorities call “swatting” — that is, “faking an emergency that draws a response from law enforcement, usually a SWAT team,” according to the FBI.
“These kind of cases are more common out in California and have gotten more prevalent because it is happening to celebrities more often than the average person,” FBI public affairs specialist Mary Beth Romig said.
“I can’t explain why it has become more prevalent, but certainly the more it makes the news, you have copy-cat incidents.”
Most of the false claims involve reports of gunmen, hostages, domestic violence and other crimes in progress and often result in innocent people being detained by police. The prank also results in wasted time and resources spent responding to fake emergencies.
Many states, including California, are looking to crack down on swatting and stiffen the penalties.
This is believed to be the first incident reported in Louisiana, said Detective Peggy Kennedy of the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office.
District Attorney Todd Neson said he was unaware of the incident.
The FBI is offering guidance to the Sheriff’s Office because the prankster is believed to be from out of state.
The incident began to unfold shortly before 9 p.m. Nov. 27 when the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office received a text message saying David Dunnehoo had killed his wife, Donna. The message was sent using AT&T’s instant message relay, a service for the hearing impaired.
The couple says the incident was retaliation from a boy in California who their son banned from playing Xbox Live games.
“He just got mad at my son because he’d banned him from the group and from playing the games,” Dunnehoo said.
The suspect had been turning the family’s Internet off and had made several threatening and sexual harassment calls to the family just weeks earlier, Dunnehoo said. He called two more times after the police left the residence.
The calls are always from a different state with a different phone number, done using caller ID spoofing to disguise the origin of the call.
“I was in bed and the house dog kept barking, so I went to the front to see what was going on,” Dunnehoo said.
That’s when he noticed police cars everywhere and more than a dozen police surrounding the house with their guns drawn.
“They kept telling me to get on the ground,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on or what they wanted. I had no clue what was happening.”
The police handcuffed him and his son and told him they had just received a call that Dunnehoo had killed his wife and was heavily armed.
After making a sweep of the house, police did not find anything, he said.
“They were victims just like us,” Dunnehoo said.
What happened to his family should be a warning to other parents and online gamers, Dunnehoo said.
“If your kids play Xbox Live, they need to know that things like this can happen,” he said.
Dunnehoo said his son has since sold his Xbox.
“It’s really traumatizing to just be watching TV and settling down for the night and all of a sudden be bombarded and ripped out of the house by police,” Donna Dunnehoo said.
But she said she has no hard feelings for police because they were just doing their job. She is grateful that they took the call seriously and responded quickly.
“After the shock wore off, I realized they were just as much a victim as we were,” she said.
Donna Dunnehoo says parents whose children play Xbox Live should find out who else is playing and should research swatting.
“All this was in retaliation because my son and his friends kicked him out and wouldn’t let him game anymore,” she said.
“This is a scary thing for anyone to have to go through. You’re living your life and all of sudden you don’t know what is going on and you get guns drawn on you like you are a criminal. It’s scary to know somebody out there can do that.
“This is real. It doesn’t just happen to celebrities. It can happen to real people like us.”