Jaffrey, Rindge police respond to prank shooting

JAFFREY — Police surrounded a Jaffrey apartment building Tuesday morning after receiving a report from Cheshire County dispatch that six men had broken into a home and killed a woman inside. But it wasn’t long after responding to the call that police learned it was all a prank, one that sent eight officers from four agencies to two different apartment houses in town.

According to police, an Oak Street resident was playing his Xbox 360, a gaming device, online when the man’s account was hacked into by two people he was playing a video game against. One gamer is believed to reside in California and the second in New Zealand, Jaffrey Police Chief Bill Oswalt said Wednesday.

“Accountability will be difficult. We have the user names of two people who later admitted to [the victim] that they had swatted the local police,” Oswalt said.

Jaffrey police has spent multiple hours unraveling the incident — which entails false report to law enforcement and false public alarms, both misdemeanor-level offenses — but it’s unlikely anyone will be held responsible, Oswalt said, even if police are able to identify the suspects.

Police say shortly before 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Cheshire County dispatch received a report from an AT&T relay service, known as Internet Telecommunications Relay Provider, that claimed a Jaffrey man was pleading for help after six men broke into his apartment and shot his mother. The Jaffrey man and the address were familiar to local police, and Oswalt and a second Jaffrey officer, along with School Resource Officer Christopher Anderson, two state troopers, a part-time Rindge officer and two Cheshire County Sheriff’s deputies responded.

The report advised police to go to an apartment building on Charlonne Street, Oswalt said, but the Jaffrey resident they were looking for was not there.

“We made contact with a man at that apartment building who informed us that his was the only apartment of the three in the building that was occupied and that he was confident there was no one else in either of the other apartments,” Oswalt said, adding that a lack of footprints in the snow confirmed the report.

Police then went to Oak Street, where they had last made contact with the man believed to have reported the shooting to authorities. Police found the Jaffrey resident they were looking for, Oswalt said, but the man denied having any part in the prank and allowed police to search his apartment.

Police found nothing suspicious inside.

Police returned to the first location on Charlonne Street and conducted a thorough search of that residence, too. Again, Oswalt said police found nothing suspicious.

Somehow, Oswalt said the Jaffrey man’s Xbox 360 account was hacked and personal information was used by a gamer in California and another outside the country to make the prank call.

“We will see if there is a federal agency that is interested in helping us follow up, but I think it is unlikely they will have the resources to commit to anything at this scale,” Oswalt said.

Real tragedies happen daily in communities nationwide, Oswalt said. To think that someone could be entertained by crafting a hoax is “cruel” and “an awful waste of time and resources,” he said.

“We now have to be aware that, as cruel as it may seem, there are people in the world that enjoy causing this type of reaction... It’s someone calling wolf,” he said. “We can’t afford to desensitize to the point that we don’t respond to emergency calls, but we now have to include in our response assessments the possibility that this is just another prank call.”

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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