A tense, three-hour standoff in a Wyckoff neighborhood ended Saturday evening when a SWAT team burst into a Hillcrest Avenue home and found only a cat.
Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox said the incident that started at 3:38 p.m. Saturday was a "hoax," which began when police received a call from a male claiming he was inside the residence and had killed four people, wounded a girl, and taken two people hostage.
The caller also said he was armed with explosives, and wanted $10,000 in cash and a police car, Fox said.
Wyckoff officers responded to the scene and alerted the Bergen County SWAT team and the county's bomb squad. Within minutes, a SWAT team armed with automatic rifles and bulletproof vests was combing the neighborhood and telling residents to stay inside.
Wyckoff police tried to contact the owner of the home, Parry Aftab, a well-known lawyer and television commentator who is considered an expert in Internet security. Fox said police worked the phones for more than hour, frantically reaching out for friends and relatives of the woman, while the SWAT team and the bomb squad waited near the house in the sweltering heat.
Finally they contacted Aftab, who assured them that neither she nor her husband had made the initial 911 call. Still, police were uncertain whether anyone was in the house, so they sent out a Reverse 911 call advising residents to stay inside their homes, lock their doors and close their windows.
Police had closed a section of Hillcrest Avenue between Lavelle Court and Newtown Road. A tense standoff ensued, as police considered when -- and how -- they would enter the home.
Media crews descended on the intersection after scanner reports of an unfolding hostage situation. They were joined by some Hillcrest Avenue residents who were returning home, only to be stopped by the police blockade.
Fox said that around 6 p.m. a member of the SWAT team thought he saw the shadow of a person on a wall. Police could not be sure anyone was inside, so 20 minutes later, they fired the first of three tear gas canisters through a window. An armored vehicle pulled up to the house, and SWAT officers stormed the residence.
The SWAT team found nothing except a cat inside the home, then checked it for explosives. When none were found, police began packing up. At 7:30 p.m., they advised residents it was safe to go back home.
"Fortunately, no one was injured," Fox said. "It was a red-hot day, but everyone got through it safely. We did what we had to do. What was reported was not real. Why it was done, I don't know."
Fox said police have the phone number of the original call, and are attempting to trace it.
Aftab is a frequent guest on the "Today" show and "Good Morning America," and is considered an expert on how parents can protect their children from online predators. Her online résumé says she runs the cyber-safety website Wiredsafety.org, and that she works closely with law enforcement.
Reached by phone, Aftab said she had been contacted by police who said they believed there was an intruder inside her home.
"The police called me and asked me if someone was in the house, and I told them to do what they had to do," Aftab said. "My house is fine. The worst thing that happened was we have to replace a window" that police shot a canister of tear gas through.
"Everyone is fine and well," Aftab said. "I just have a cat now who is freaked. But it comes with the territory, doing what I do. ... The cops take very good care of me."
Hillcrest Avenue resident David Wilson, 49, applauded the actions of the responding officers.
"It's better to be safe than sorry," Wilson said. "This is better news -- that no one was hurt. The police did a great job."