Police: Call of shots fired at Northwestern graduate dorm was ‘swatting’ hoax

A call of shots fired that sent scores of heavily armed officers to a Northwestern University graduate dorm Wednesday afternoon was apparently a case of “swatting” where someone falsely reports a shooting to police

A caller reached the Evanston police from somewhere near Rockford around 2:15 p.m. and said he had shot his girlfriend at Engelhart Hall, just west of the main campus. Alerts were issues and teams of police dispatched, but officers found the woman unharmed with “no evidence of a victim, scene or gunman,” said Evanston Police Cmdr. Ryan Glew, a spokesman for the department.

She was talking with police Wednesday afternoon, and has told officers she and her boyfriend have had no domestic issues, he said.

After a search of the dorm and area around it, police said it did not appear there was an active shooter. “We have not located any indication of a shooting as described,” Glew told reporters near the dorm at Emerson Street and Maple Avenue.

Around 4:30 p.m., Northwestern tweeted that “the report of a man with a gun in Engelhart Hall was a hoax. …. No danger to the community exists. Police are investigating.”

The alert initially went out to students and staff shortly before 2:30 p.m., warning them to stay away from the area of Engelhart Hall, which houses apartments for Northwestern graduate students and their families. Even after police found no evidence of a victim or weapon, Northwestern tweeted that people inside Engelhart “should remain behind locked doors until issuing an all-clear more than two hours after the call was made.

Swatting is the practice of placing hoax emergency calls with the aim of drawing a large response from law enforcement. It can be an drain on police resources and can turn deadly.

Los Angeles resident Tyler Rai Barriss has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and other felonies after he called a police dispatcher in Wichita, Kansas and falsely reported that he’d shot his father and was holding two other people hostage inside a home the end of December. When police responded to the address, 28-year-old Andy Finch emerged from the front door and was fatally shot by an officer.

It was not clear why Finch’s address was a target of the hoax, according to police.

The FBI estimates that roughly 400 cases of swatting occur annually, with some using caller ID spoofing to disguise their numbers.

The Northwestern alert went out not long after a crowd of students participated in the National School Walkout. Hundreds of Northwestern University students gathered in Deering Meadow on campus in support of a national effort for tighter regulations on gun sales after a high school massacre in Florida.

Two groups of NU students marched through campus holding signs and chanting, “No more silence, end gun violence,” before converging on the field for speeches.

“Being murdered when you’re trying to get an education has become a real fear in this country, the only developed country where this regularly happens,” Northwestern freshman Valen-Marie Santos said through a megaphone. “We stand up today because we can’t let this country get used to these kinds of massacres. We can’t let our country be desensitized to this kind of violence.”

Santos was one of eight Northwestern students from Florida who formed a support group on Facebook after Feb. 14, when a shooter killed 17 students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The students in Deering Meadow stood silent for one minute at 10:17 a.m. in memory of the Florida high school victims.

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty attended the demonstration.

“Our country needs your leadership, we need your generation, elected officials need to hear from you,” Hagerty told the gathering. “We need you to use social media, marketing, your persuasion, your youthful optimism, and the technical skills you are learning here at Northwestern and elsewhere to help us solve this absurd problem.”

Tribune reporter Dawn Rhodes contributed


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