Drexel University

NJ Family ‘Swatted' by Video Gamers: Police

A local lawmaker is calling for more severe penalties for "swatting" -- a dangerous hoax that brings police officers with guns drawn into the homes of unsuspecting families -- after 30 police officers surrounded a South Jersey house earlier this year.

Rob Richards was playing video games with friends in the basement of his Millville, Cumberland County home on a recent Saturday night when police called and ordered the group, along with Rob's mother, Laura Richards, out of the house with their hands in the air.

"The cops are just asking, 'turn on all your lights, walk outside,'" Rob described.

His sister and father, who were asleep inside, were forced outside at gunpoint.

"They had us lay down on the pavement. It was just insane," said Rob, who broadcasts his game play online through a website called Twitch. "It was absolutely wild."

Moments before police arrived at the Richards' home, a caller had told a Millville 911 dispatcher an argument among relatives at that location had turned violent.

"My mom and dad got into an argument and it got physical," the caller said. "I took the gun and I shot my dad."

"I want to kill her and kill myself," he continued. "I don't want to be alive anymore."

The call -- reporting a crime that never occurred -- was a prank meant to disrupt the game and show cops scaring Rob and his friends as more than 1,000 people watched over Twitch.

But the stunt is no joke to authorities, who said the hoax wasted taxpayer dollars and officers' time.

"It's unfortunate the taxpayers are going to have to pick up this bill," said Millville Police Lt. Jody Farabella, who added it took nearly three hours for investigators to confirm it was a hoax.

The local incident is similar to other reports of "swatting" across the country.

"They're hiding in cyberspace and they feel they can easily get away with it," said Rob Dovidio, an associate dean at Drexel University and cyber crimes expert. "It is a high-tech prank, but let's not minimize what's going on here."

"The potential for someone to get hurt is there," said Dovidio, who explained "swatting" is on the rise -- a fact Rob's mom finds particularly frustrating.

"This has to stop," Laura said. "Somebody has to be held accountable."

Her sentiments echo those of New Jersey State Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D - 4), who plans to introduce a bill upping penalties for this crime to the legislature by the end of October.

"We need a more severe law to deal with this kind of sick and disturbing activity," Moriarty said.

A person convicted of "swatting" under current New Jersey law could end up only serving probation.

But Moriarty said he wants mandatory jail time.

"The penalty should be more severe and they should be required to pay for every dollar that was spent by the municipality to send these people out here."

The Richards still don't know who "swatted" Rob, but he is taking steps to prevent it from happening to his family again.

"We're kinda taking a break from streaming," he said.

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