The Powell Police Department’s dispatch center received a call from a blocked number at 9:43 p.m., in which a male reported that two people had gone into the hotel and shot someone in the back of the head.
The first officers arrived at the Super 8 at 9:45 p.m., said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt.
When police entered the building, “the phone at the clerk’s desk rang and the caller requested to speak with [the] officers,” Eckerdt said in a news release. The male then said the call “was not real” and “he was just testing the response time,” the chief recounted.
Powell police officers — who were assisted by their counterparts from the Park County Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Highway Patrol — secured the perimeter of the hotel, evacuated everyone from the building and searched each room.
Nothing was found, Eckerdt said.
The last officers didn’t leave the hotel until around 12:15 a.m. Thursday, the chief said.
“It was definitely not only a drain on manpower and a financial investment to have the resources out there to handle the call, but it put other parts of the community at risk,” Eckerdt said. “Our dispatch center was back-to-back-to-back hammered with calls [Wednesday] night and, between ambulance calls, while she’s trying to handle somebody in a true medical emergency, the dispatcher’s having to field this call from this guy.”
He said the bogus report put police in a tight spot.
“If we do not respond appropriately and it’s real, then what?” Eckerdt said. “We have to treat every situation as [if] it’s real until it can be proven differently.”
By Thursday, the department had shifted focus to identifying the person who placed the calls.
“Will it take some serious investigative work? Yes, it will, but we’ll pursue it as far as we can,” Eckerdt said, saying his department may eventually reach out to federal authorities for assistance.
Prank calls to law enforcement can be placed from all over the country, with callers able to disguise their identity.
On Tuesday, a series of bomb threats were called in to various locations around Wyoming, including the Natrona County and Teton County sheriff’s offices. Authorities have named one man, 33-year-old Kreighton Kilgore, as a suspect in those threats. Eckerdt said those incidents do not appear to be related to the bogus report called in to Powell PD.
The call to Powell police is more similar to a type of hoax known as “swatting,” in which a caller falsely reports someone has committed a serious crime — such as a murder. That’s in the hopes of getting police to make a massive display of force at a specific residence, such as at the home of a celebrity or a rival in an online game.
In December, authorities say a young man in Los Angeles called police in Wichita, Kansas, and falsely reported a “hostage situation” at a man’s home. When officers responded to the address, they wound up shooting and killing the 28-year-old Wichita resident who answered the door.
Eckerdt said he hasn’t seen many of these type of hoaxes in this area. He said Wednesday’s call to Powell police met the definition of a terroristic threat, which is a felony crime.