California Teen in Custody for Alleged ‘Swatting’ on Florida Mosque

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In a concerning incident highlighting the dangerous and illegal practice of swatting, a 17-year-old from Lancaster, California, has been arrested and extradited to Florida for making a false police report about a mass shooting at a Seminole County mosque. The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) charged the teenager with multiple felonies related to the false call, which prompted a significant law enforcement response to the Masjid Al Hayy Mosque in Sanford last year.

Swatting involves making false reports to law enforcement with the intention of prompting a heavily armed SWAT team response to a specific location, causing chaos and potential harm. The recent incident targeted a religious organization, highlighting the severity of this illegal practice.

The incident occurred on May 12, 2023, when approximately 30 law enforcement officers rushed to the mosque after receiving a call from a male voice threatening a mass shooting with a handgun and explosive devices. The caller claimed allegiance to Satan and ended the call with simulated sounds of weapons firing. Despite the alarming nature of the call, deputies found no actual threat upon arrival at the mosque.

The investigation revealed that the California teenager may be connected to other swatting incidents. Police records indicate calls from the same voice-over-IP phone number making similar threats to at least two other mosques in Florida on the same day. This coordinated effort to disrupt public safety underscores the malicious nature of swatting and its potential to cause harm.

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Swatting incidents have seen a dramatic increase in recent years, targeting schools, religious organizations, and political figures. In response to the growing threat, Florida legislators classified swatting as a felony in 2021, recognizing the severity of its impact on public safety.

The arrest of the 17-year-old was made possible through a collaborative effort involving the SCSO’s Domestic Security Division, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other law enforcement agencies. The teenager was extradited to Seminole County on January 30 and booked into the John E. Polk Correctional Facility without bond.

The charges against the teenager include felony counts of making a false report about explosives or the use of firearms, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, making a false report to law enforcement concerning the commission of a capital felony, and making a false report to law enforcement causing a public safety agency response (swatting). These charges are coupled with allegations of facilitating or furthering an act of terrorism and showing prejudice.

Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma emphasized the seriousness of swatting, describing it as a perilous and senseless crime that puts innocent lives in danger and strains valuable resources. Sheriff Lemma expressed gratitude for the collaboration with various law enforcement agencies and underscored a commitment to identifying and prosecuting swatting perpetrators.

Investigators believe that the arrested teenager may have created multiple accounts on websites, offering paid swatting services. Known as Torswats, the teenager is believed to be one of the most prolific swatters in American history, claiming responsibility for hundreds of false reports of active shooters and bomb threats.

Reports indicate that Torswats offered swatting services for a fee, charging $75 per school or $50 for an “extreme swatting” against someone’s house. The teenager allegedly provided discounts for repeat business and negotiated swatting incidents involving famous individuals.

As law enforcement in other jurisdictions may conduct their investigations, the case serves as a stark warning that swatting will face zero tolerance. The legal consequences and measures in place to identify and prosecute individuals responsible for such crimes highlight the commitment of law enforcement to address this dangerous and disruptive practice.

In conclusion, the arrest and extradition of the California teenager for the swatting incident at a Seminole County mosque shed light on the severity of this illegal activity. As law enforcement continues to combat swatting, it remains essential to raise awareness about its dangers and work towards preventing such incidents that jeopardize public safety and divert resources from genuine emergencies.

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