LARAMIE — Laramie police continue to investigate a “swatting” incident that closed several streets and prompted the evacuation of an area of downtown for more than two hours Tuesday evening.
Someone called the dispatch center “claiming he was armed with a large rifle and was wanting to shoot at people at a business in the 200 block of South 2nd Street,” the Laramie Police Department said in a statement about the incident.
The suspect, identified as a male, called in at 5:08 p.m. and also claimed he had planted an explosive device in a vehicle in the area.
The threats ultimately were determined to be unfounded, and an all-clear was called at about 7:15 p.m.
The threat prompted officers to secure the area and also evacuate several businesses and residences.
LPD bomb technicians responded and investigated the vehicle referenced in the threat, according to the LPD statement. Finding no evidence of a bomb in the vehicle, police also were described by witnesses as searching area trash containers and escorting people from the area.
Armed officers patrolled the area while others directed traffic around the closed streets.
“I don’t think anybody knew what was going on,” said Carter Parks, who works at the co-working space at The Durlacher on 2nd Street.
Police also escorted patrons and employees out of the Crowbar & Grill building through a side door, an employee said.
Many congregated at the nearby Buckhorn Bar & Parlor and watched as officers investigated the car parked on 2nd Street.
Not only was there no explosive device in the vehicle, LPD determined it “was not related to the suspect in any way,” the statement said.
The incident is an active investigation, said Lt. Ryan Thompson of the Laramie Police Department. While he wouldn’t confirm if a particular suspect has been identified, he said indications are that he isn’t local.
The 200 block of South 2nd Street was visible through a public webcam placed looking south from Ivinson Avenue, he said. That means anyone in the world with an internet connection could have been watching and could have pointed out the specific vehicle involved in the threat.
“We’re pretty sure that’s how they were watching,” Thompson said, adding that officials “don’t think it was a local threat or anything.”
He said a remote viewer over a webcam also fits the profile of “swatting” calls, and it’s possible the suspect was watching the response as well.
LPD also is asking anyone with information related to the crime to call Crimestoppers at 307-742-CARE (2273). Callers could earn a cash reward of up to $1,000 and do not have to give a name.
The LPD describes “swatting” as a criminal harassment offense in which someone deliberately attempts to deceive an emergency service into responding to an unrelated and unsuspecting address. The harassment often includes extreme threats of violence or terroristic types of threats.
It’s called “swatting” because a threat often is extreme enough to produce a tactical or SWAT response from emergency agencies.
It’s dangerous when someone “threatens to commit any violent felony with the intent to cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly or facility of public transportation, or otherwise to cause serious public inconvenience,” according to the LPD statement.
It also includes cases that reflect a “reckless disregard” of the consequences of such threats. Swatting is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
As soon as the call came in, the LPD’s normal shift patrol already on duty responded (about a half dozen officers), Thompson said.
These officers were joined by officers from the University of Wyoming Police Department and Albany County Sheriff ’s Office.
The LPD also called in its bomb technicians and explosive response personnel and equipment, he said. That includes a large BearCat armored vehicle which, along with being bulletproof, can be tactically deployed to help mitigate the radius and direction of an explosion.
“We used the BearCat strictly for blast dispersion,” Thompson said about Tuesday’s response.
It was parked next to the suspect vehicle “so if there was a bomb, it could direct (a potential blast).”
That people can use technology like webcams to commit crimes and terrorize people from thousands of miles away is something law enforcement has been working to adapt to, Thompson said.
“In this day and age, the threat matrix keeps going up and up with all the crazy stuff people come up with,” he said. “The problem with this stuff is it doesn’t just affect us and our manpower, it affects the general citizens every day. You’re shutting down businesses, getting people out of their homes.”