Someone impersonating a Palo Alto resident called police on Tuesday night and falsely reported he'd just shot his wife at his University South home, prompting the police and other emergency responders to surround the home, a police department press release stated on Wednesday.
The caller also said he had tied up his children, had numerous pipe bombs and would harm police if they came to help, the police reported. But after more than a dozen officers, including trained crisis negotiators, and four Fire Department units arrived at the home in the 900 block of Emerson Street, they eventually discovered the call had been a hoax.
Initially, police surrounded the home and used a public address system to contact the residents inside. Two residents, including the man whom the caller had impersonated, exited the home. They did not know what was going on, police said.
Officers entered the house and confirmed no crime had occurred. No children were in the home, and there were no pipe bombs, police said.
The police press release did not indicate why the male resident had been targeted, but the Palo Alto Daily Post identified him as a high-profile Facebook executive. The man, through a Facebook colleague, declined a request for an interview with the Weekly out of concern for his and his family's safety.
"We thank the city of Palo Alto for their swift and thoughtful response," Facebook spokesman Anthony Harrison said in a statement. "They quickly identified this as a prank, and we are glad that our colleague and his family are safe."
The incident started at 9:16 p.m. and lasted at least 51 minutes, according to PulsePoint.com. Officers blocked off traffic at Emerson and Channing Avenue during the episode, according to a video by local resident Jennifer Baer posted on Twitter.
The phone number of the hoaxer was untraceable, according to police, who are continuing to investigate the "swatting" incident, in which someone makes a false report of an emergency that draws a large police response. The perpetrator could face multiple criminal charges and potential civil liability for the city's costs related to the law-enforcement response, police said.
"Hoax threats such as this are not only criminal in nature, but they also create a great deal of stress and anxiety for neighbors. The law enforcement response to this incident took officers away from their other important duties and calls. Anyone found responsible for placing a hoax call like this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," the department said in a statement.
Police have responded en masse to other hoaxes in the past two years. A caller impersonating a student threatened a mass shooting on the Palo Alto High School campus in March 2018. Police investigated a bomb threat at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in February 2017, which shut down the campus; and a bomb threat forced HP Enterprise employees into a lockdown in October 2017.
Anyone with information about Tuesday night's hoax is asked to call the department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to email@example.com or sent by text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the police's free mobile app, downloadable at bit.ly/PAPD-AppStore or bit.ly/PAPD-GooglePlay.