Bogus call to 911 leads to big response

A King County family is the latest target of “swatting” with a “chillingly effective” call to 911. “Me and my mom got in an argument, so I shot her,” said the female caller.

Last month, the caller gave the 911 operator the home address of Darren Farmer and threatened to shoot herself and others. “If I see cops, I think I’m going to shoot them,” said the caller.

While emergency operator Michelle Holfert tried to calm the caller, she dispatched members of the King County SWAT team, along with police from Sammamish and Issaquah. “When you know someone’s shot, you want to get patrol started right away,” Holfert told KIRO 7.

King County Deputy Matt Martin was among those dispatched, and described the call as “chillingly effective in certainly convincing me that we had a serious situation.”

When the tactical team arrived at the upscale townhome shortly after 7 a.m., they knocked on the door repeatedly. “We tried to make contact over any means we could including calling them, trying to get the residents to come out and we’re getting no response,” said Deputy Martin.

After about 90 minutes, Darren Farmer woke up to find a massive police presence outside his townhome. “My wife and I and my child, we were all asleep upstairs,” said Farmer. He opened his front door to find guns pointed at him. “All with full gear, hands on weapons, large weapons right here at the door. It was very concerning. I mean, it was frightening to say the least.”

Deputies quickly realized the 911 call was bogus and Farmer, along with his family, were the targets of “swatting.”

Swatting began as a dangerous prank with unsuspecting gamers surprised by SWAT teams during livestreams. In Wichita, it led to an innocent man being killed by police.

Darren Farmer and his family moved to Washington from Texas last year. He told KIRO 7 he has no idea why someone would target them. While the motive is unclear, race has been a factor in other “swatting” incidents.

Naveed Jamali is a former FBI double-agent, and the editor-at-large for Newsweek. “Swatting for me is very personal. It is something I’d never heard of until I found myself on the receiving end of an Atomwaffen group that was targeting journalists of color,” said Jamali.

Jamali worked with the Seattle Police Department to create an anti-swatting registry for people concerned they might be targeted. “We’ve really led the way in the nation in moving towards emerging threats, one of which is swatting,” said Jamali.

In 2020, Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill to increase the penalties for swatting in Washington. However, arresting the swatters is a bigger challenge. “We have these serial swatters and without police recognizing that a ‘swat’ has occurred, it’s never passed on to the feds, and that loss of data really impacts the ability to investigate and stop these people,” said Jamali.

King County Deputy Matt Martin said the bogus calls take away limited resources. “We’re not as ready to respond to a real emergency while we’re focused on safely resolving this one,” said Martin.

Michelle Holfert has worked in the King County 911 call center for nearly 22 years. “I will say that this one bothered me a lot,” said Holfert.

After the initial concern, Farmer asked to take a photo of the law enforcement presence outside his front door. King County deputies obliged with smiles on their faces. The incident has left Farmer with more questions than answers. “It leaves me with no words because I just don’t, I can’t understand it and I can’t understand why, what would drive someone to want to do something like that?”