Shooting hoax triggers massive police response | News | Palo Alto Online |


Shooting hoax triggers massive police response

Person claiming to be Palo Alto resident said he shot wife, tied up kids

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 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 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 or


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21 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2019 at 3:35 pm

If the phone company is able to connect the call, I find it hard to believe that the call is totally untraceable.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2019 at 4:08 pm

That must have been so scary for the neighbors and completely crazy for the residents at the address. So pleased nobody there was hurt by mistake.

What is going on with all the crime in town? It is getting worse as something seems to be happening every couple of days.

11 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 9, 2019 at 4:55 pm

I'd assume the call came from a burner phone.

12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2019 at 5:27 pm

Gamers refer to this as "swatting":

Web Link

There should be a service available based on "ANI" that could determine if a local-appearing call is actually local. If this service was available and used, any emergency service like PAPD would know instantly that the call did not originate locally and thus, they could ignore someone pretending to know about an emergency in University South by someone calling from wherever. PAPD and other agencies need to start working with providers to get such services made available. There was a fatal incident in 2017 due to swatting.

17 people like this
Posted by Another Fool
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2019 at 5:44 pm

What a waste of LEO manpower. Meanwhile a true emergency could have been taking place.

The clown who made the call is probably having a good laugh but should serve some serious county jail time for this irresponsible stupidity.

'Back in the day', we used to have 'bomb scares' in high school about once a year. The school secretary would then check the attendance log and the practical jokers would usually get caught. Punishment at the time was detention.

With 911 and countless school shootings now taking place, these kinds of pranks are no longer taken lightly.

46 people like this
Posted by Ardan Michael Blum
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2019 at 6:00 pm

In the recent ATTEMPTED SELF HARM cases (such as the tragic death of the Redwood City teacher and/or the suicide-by-cop of a schizophrenic man with a knife during a standoff in downtown Palo Alto) there were clearly time-sensitive demands on the police which did not allow for last night's mobilization of force and the surrounding of an area for a hostage event. Yet, to go from a whole support group of various teams (example of last night) to the option of "taser or gun" (as in the self-harm cases) is a big shift!

There is a need for MUCH MORE POWERFUL NON-DEADLY OPTIONS (such as a sonic weapon) that could be part of a kit (with a S.W.A.T. hand-held shield) for response to self-harm calls. Our brave police should have a special "self-harm package" to deploy (either kept in selected police cars or stored at fire stations for pickup during emergency situations). Many lives could be saved with this investment.

11 people like this
Posted by Other Ways
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 9, 2019 at 6:44 pm

@Ardan Michael, good point re: sonic weapon.

I'm thinking... for self-harm situations, couldn't police force just use mini versions of nonlethal weapons used in the military?

11 people like this
Posted by Nutso
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2019 at 8:46 pm

what scares me is so far 10 people have liked ardan’s post. A more powerful non-deadly weapon? Sonic weapon? Like an LRAD that already exists???? Then mini-versions of nonlethal military weapons?

I feel dumber for having read this thread

9 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2019 at 12:07 am

This kind of thing scares the bejeebers out of me. It is a great way to possibly
get someone killed, call in a police emergency to where they are and hope for
maximum confusion. This has been reported to have happened all over the
country where police show up to a house, or even the wrong house and in such
a state that they over-react and scare or unleash deadly force on people. Such
a false report should be handled with great seriousness and proscuted to the
fullest extent allowable by law.

I would be interested in reading a story on how these kinds of calls are handled
so as to mitigate the possibility that someone totally innocent and unsuspecting
is faced with SWAT teams of teams of police breaking through their doors.

I watched the video of the guy jumping around ... I think it was on Addison St. a
year or two back who was shot to death by police, and it felt to me just watching
it that this was an unnecessary outcome. Now, I say if a police officer feels their
life is in danger they should have the right to defend themselves, but it would
be good if three was more training and options, as well as planning in terms
of approaching these calls.

18 people like this
Posted by life, liberty
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jan 10, 2019 at 9:25 am

Oh, great. Further militarize the police. What could possibly go wrong?

23 people like this
Posted by A Simple Solution
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 10, 2019 at 9:36 am


Simple. Use animal tranquilizer darts. Done deal.

When the perpetrator/suspect wakes-up, they will be in lock-down.

2 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2019 at 10:09 am

Given who the target was, it sure increases the possibilities of who's responsible. Is PAPD up to the task of figuring this out?

12 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 10, 2019 at 11:10 am

Mama is a registered user.

Police should announce a good reward to get an informer to come forward. I am willing to contribute.
PA Online, please look into this. Let police ask for funding, and you announce where to donate. Many others will come forward as well. Very dangerous situation.

3 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2019 at 12:06 pm

eileen is a registered user.

It's scary how easy it is to get someone's name and address. The call to the police came from an untraceable phone number. It could have come from anywhere in the country....

7 people like this
Posted by everwillow
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 10, 2019 at 3:38 pm

everwillow is a registered user.

Here's an interesting story about tracking down two swatters in real life.

Web Link

It's difficult because voice-over-ip services allow you to make phone calls using a local number by using an internet connection from anywhere in the world over the internet. The internet makes it very easy to be anonymous, although in many cases you can be traced with enough effort.

4 people like this
Posted by Novelera
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2019 at 5:44 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

@everwillow: Thanks for the link. Fascinating article. What's wrong with these kids?

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