As pranks go, the bogus bomb threat that put Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School into lockdown two weeks ago made a splash.
More than 30 police officers – including armed tactical officers, bomb disposal technicians and several K-9 handlers – were kept busy for eight hours to evacuate and search the Milton, Ont., school.
It was one of the latest examples of “swatting,” a hoax designed to get a police SWAT team to respond to fake emergency calls about a gunman or a bomb.
The Ottawa Police Service arrested a 16-year-old boy last Thursday and charged him in connection with about 30 swatting incidents in the spring, including the one in Milton and ones at schools in Laval, Que., in Calgary and in the United States.
U.S. computer security journalist Brian Krebs has also alleged that the Ottawa teenager was behind two false emergency calls targeting him after he blocked a Twitter user who was harassing him.
The Twitter user who was hassling Mr. Krebs goes by the handle @ProbablyOnion2, an account that was filled with boasts about swatting.
“What school will be the next victim of swatting? Want your school swatted? Tweet me for a DM [direct message], we can discuss it,” @ProbablyOnion2 wrote on April 16.
In the Milton incident, Halton Regional Police said they were called to the Jean Vanier school at 10:28 a.m. Six minutes later, @ProbablyOnion2 wrote online: “Jean Vanier school: swatted, Milton, ON.”
About 20 minutes later, @ProbablyOnion2 boasted: “I really hope you guys know I was the one who called in the threat, lol.”
In the following days, @ProbablyOnion2 bragged about engaging in more hoaxes.
The last tweet, last Thursday evening, said: “Still awaiting for the horsies to bash down my door.”
Later that day, Ottawa police arrested the 16-year-old suspect. The Canadian media cannot fully identify him, because of provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, his name and cyber nicknames have been circulated online.
He has been charged with 60 criminal counts, including public mischief, mischief to property, uttering death threats and conveying false information with intent to alarm.
Ottawa police said their investigation had been conducted with the help of Halton Regional Police, Laval Police, the Sûreté du Québec, the Calgary Police Service and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It is not clear why Mr. Krebs was targeted, but he has written before about being swatted after he reported on hackers, even getting handcuffed by police who came to his house with guns drawn.
The @ProbablyOnion2 Twitter account kept track of each swatting incident.
On April 24, @ProbablyOnion2 mentioned Mountain Park School in Calgary. “#swatted,” the tweet said.
Minutes later, 920 Grade 5 to 9 students and 65 adult staff had to leave their Calgary middle school. Afterward, the Calgary Board of Education was lambasted for the delays in notifying parents.
“A #Calgary school got swatted, I wonder who did it,” a Twitter user wrote later that day.
The reply from @ProbablyOnion2 was “;)” – the emoticon for a winking smile.
On the morning of May 2, @ProbablyOnion2 wrote: “Breaking news: About to dispatch swat team to a school,” adding later “Georges-Vanier in Laval, QC just got another swat dispatched.”
This was a reference to École secondaire Georges-Vanier, north of Montreal, which had been targeted several times by swatting.
Later that day, @ProbablyOnion2 wrote: “In other news, classrooms in Melbourne High School were talking about me most of their class, lol.”
This was an allusion to a school in Florida’s Brevard County, which had also been the victim of prank calls.
On May 5, police in Germantown, Md., received a phone call that there was a person with a gun and hostages at Northwest High School. A local TV report said some students were hiding under their desks in fear.
A week before, the police had evacuated the school after receiving a bomb threat.
“These calls were hoaxes and … they came from the same person,” the school said in a letter to parents.
Two parents spoke to the local ABC affiliate to express their outrage.
“It’s not funny at all, it’s very serious to take everyone’s time and put people in that emotional state. … It’s not fun at all,” said one woman.
“Whoever is doing this needs to be taught a good lesson,” said another.
The following day, @ProbablyOnion2 publicized the two women’s names on Twitter, posting their addresses and phone numbers or e-mail accounts.
Two other teenagers have also been arrested and are alleged by police to have been accomplices of the Ottawa suspect.
Halton Police said they arrested a minor at his house in Milton on May 2. He was charged with public mischief in connection with the bomb threat at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School.
“The accused had planned for the threat to be delivered by an online acquaintance,” police said in a communiqué.
Six days later, at the same time that the Ottawa resident was taken into custody, the Sûreté du Québec arrested a 15-year-old Laval resident.
The Laval teen was also charged with public mischief for making threats at public places and private residences. He is alleged to have acted together with the Ottawa suspect, the Quebec provincial police said.