CPD says report of shooting Wednesday night, followed by bomb threat at CRH, was false, another ‘swatting’ incident

COLUMBUS, Ind. — The Columbus Police Department responded to a false report of a shooting Wednesday night, and a possible related bomb threat at Columbus Regional Hospital, both believed to be examples of “swatting,” which is an intentional false report
that police say is becoming more common.

“Swatting” is dangerous, exhausts public safety resources, and is a crime, said Columbus Police Department spokesman Sgt. Skylar Berry.

“Swatting” is when someone calls for emergency services and makes a false report of an emergency in hopes of generating a large public safety response. Commonly, the caller is not in the same city or even state as the location they are calling about and makes the call to harass the residents who live there, police said.

The large police response that these calls prompt are dangerous and waste resources, Berry said. While officers are acting on the information they received from the caller, the unsuspecting resident may not know the police are responding and believe someone is trying to break into their home. While officers are responding to a false report, they are taken away from conducting other police duties, Berry said.

At 11:26 p.m. Wednesday, CPD officers were dispatched to a home in the 1700 block of South Drive after a male called dispatch reporting he had just shot his family and that he was going to kill himself. Officers arrived, established a perimeter, and made contact with the people inside the home, Berry said. Officers determined the male caller, not the property
owner, had made a false report. The investigation is still ongoing, but CPD investigators believe the suspect called as retaliation against a juvenile resident they had been communicating with online. The suspect is believed to be outside of Indiana.

In the early morning hours of Thursday, CPD received a bomb threat against Columbus Regional Hospital (CRH) that referenced the address on South Drive and was believed to be connected. Still, CRH Police Department called in additional resources and ensured the report was false, Berry said.

False reporting of a crime is a Class B misdemeanor and can carry a 180-day sentence. Falsely reporting an explosive device in a building is a Level 6 felony and can carry a sentence of two and a half years.

Columbus police asked parents to speak to their children about internet safety and open those lines of communication. A few tips to help keep your kids safe include:
–install parental controls on electronic devices
–set time limits on device usage
–turn off locations services on all nonessential apps
— know who your child is talking to online
–teach children not to speak with or share personal information with anyone they don’t know

In 2023, there were two incidents of swatting in Columbus, according to Columbus police.

The most recent occurred on Dec. 27, 2023 when local police and first responders responded to a fake report of a homicide and hostage situation on Chandler Lane in Columbus. The caller also claimed to be armed with an assault rifle.

CPD responded by sending multiple units to the home and forcing entry into the residence. However, nobody was there.

The home belongs to Paul and Kimberly Hoffman, who were out of town at the time. Paul Hoffman, an author, publisher and former Republic special publications editor, was a candidate for Columbus City Council at-large in the 2023 municipal election and previously ran for Bartholomew County Council.

“It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe somebody did that. Who would do that? Why would they do it? Was I targeted? Was my wife targeted? Was it some random thing?’” Paul Hoffman said. “…The most disconcerting thing for me right now is I don’t know why, and I don’t know who. So is it going to happen again? Is it going to happen while we’re home? Will it be late at night?”

“You don’t know if anything like this can escalate, especially when you don’t know why,” he added.

That incident came nearly six months after Columbus police received a report of someone being shot at another local residence. When officers arrived on the scene, they briefly detained a juvenile, who they now believe was the victim of swatting following an argument related to an online video game.

In at least one of the incidents last year a spoof phone number was used to contact emergency dispatchers, Harris said. The call that resulted in the incident last week came in through the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center’s non-emergency phone line, officials said.

This story will be updated.