Police are still investigating a swatting incident in Lititz last week that led to a dangerous situation in which multiple officers responded to a false report, causing confusion among neighbors.
Officers were dispatched around 4:10 p.m. on April 20 to the 600 block of South Cedar Street for the report of a shooting at a row home.
According to Lititz Borough Police:
Information from dispatch initially indicated that a male caller to 911 claimed he just shot and killed his wife inside the home in Lititz and was currently in the backyard with a shotgun and would kill other people in the neighborhood. The caller also stated that his daughter was tied up inside the home before disconnecting from 911 without providing any more information.
Four Lititz Police officers arrived at the scene within a few minutes of the 911 call, implementing “on-scene critical incident protocols” like locating and containing the suspect, identifying anyone in need of medical attention and establishing a command post near the scene. A response team of Lititz Police officers was also dispatched to the last known location of the suspect in the rear of the home.
The suspect was not located outside the residence or in the immediate area of South Cedar Street.
“While the mitigation efforts were ongoing, a variety of incident support functions were occurring in support of a safe resolution of this incident, based on the information known at the time,” Lititz Police said in a press release. “This included unified command and control protocols involving the coordination of units of various public safety service functions.”
A team of officers from around Lancaster County arrived at the home and began making announcements through a public address system on a police vehicle to anyone inside the building. Officers witnessed at the scene included Pennsylvania State Police and Ephrata Police.
A resident inside the home responded to the commands and exited through the front door, where police officers were awaiting to render aid.
The resident who exited the home denied the report of the shooting and was “unaware of any problem in the home.”
“Based on the totality of the initial on-scene and subsequent investigative efforts, including both those identified in this release and others which are not, a determination was made with confidence that this incident did not occur as reported,” Lititz Police said.
By 4:50 p.m., police were dispersing from the scene.
South Cedar Street was blocked off between East Fourth Avenue and East Sixth Street during the incident. East Sixth Street was also closed between South Broad Street (Route 501) and Laurel Avenue during the incident.
The timing of the incident led to traffic jams in the area as people attempted to return to their homes after the work day.
Dozens of neighbors lined the sidewalks after the incident, not sure as to what they had just witnessed.
One neighbor in the 600 block of South Cedar Street said they witnessed police rush a woman away from a house and later put a man in handcuffs after he came out of the home.
Other neighbors said they saw officers walking behind homes carrying rifles and telling people to get back into their homes. A helicopter was seen flying around the neighborhood during the incident.
Several neighbors said they were unnerved by the incident and were seeking information from police as to what transpired.
The term “swatting” is used for incidents involving suspects making false calls to law enforcement in an attempt to illicit a large police response to a residence, business or public space. Lititz Police said swatting incidents take away resources from other legitimate emergencies and place innocent people in danger.
Last week’s swatting incident in Lititz marked the second false incident in Central Pennsylvania in a few days. On April 18, a caller reported a false incident in Silver Spring Township, Cumberland County, leading to a two-hour standoff with police.
PennLive reported that no one was at home at the time of the incident, leading to confusion among first responders. PennLive said police were eventually able to determine no one was inside the home.
Several school districts across Pennsylvania were the victims of swatting incidents on March 29, with threats made of bombs and active shooters inside the schools. The false calls impacted districts in Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Altoona and Centre and Chester counties, leading to large police responses, lockdowns of buildings and evacuations.
Pennsylvania State Police reported that they are still investigating the calls, saying all the calls “had similar content.”
The swatting hoax at Pennsylvania schools came just days after the Nashville school shooting in which a 27-year-old woman who considered herself transgender shot and killed six people.
According to the FBI, swatting calls can cost thousands of dollars to a department every time police are dispatched to a scene. Prominent people have been the victims of swatting calls, including Clint Eastwood, Tom Cruise and Miley Cyrus, according to the FBI.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was the victim of two different swatting incidents at her home last year in Rome, Ga. when police said a male caller indicated he had been shot multiple times at the legislator’s residence. Police said they received a second call from the suspect who was using a computer generated voice that they were “upset about Mrs. Greene’s political view on transgender youth rights.”
The United States Capital Police are still investigating Greene’s swatting incidents.
Swatting calls also have the potential to turn deadly. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a California man was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019 for making a hoax call that led to a police shooting and killing of an innocent person.
Last week’s swatting incident was not the first time Lititz Police have experienced a similar situation.
In 2008, a then 18-year-old Lititz resident Zach Shimp made a phony phone call to 911 reporting a shooting at Warwick High School, leading to a large police response at the school. As police responded to the school, Shimp robbed a woman at gunpoint on the other side of town.
Shimp was arrested and later pled guilty in 2010 to robbery, simple assault and making false reports, receiving a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.
Lititz Police said they are continuing the investigation of the April 20 incident, and the identity of the caller has not been verified.
“The LBPD appreciates the assistance provided by responding mutual aid law enforcement, Lititz Fire Company and Warwick EMS,” Lititz Police said. “The LBPD also appreciates the cooperation of Lititz Borough residents who were diverted from the area for approximately 45 minutes. It should be stressed that nobody has been injured and there is no armed subject at large. There was not, nor is there currently, any risk to the Lititz community.”