More than 70 emergency responders swarmed a Long Beach home Tuesday, girded for a multiple shooting and barricade crisis -- except it turned out to be a revenge hoax against a video game fan, authorities said.
The 3 p.m. call came from someone saying he had killed his mother and brother inside a Laurelton Boulevard house. Police suspect the caller likely made the fake report after becoming upset during a game of Call of Duty against a 17-year-old opponent inside the house.
"The loser calls to get revenge," said Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney.
He said investigators are trying to trace the origin of the call and considered the prank part of a wider and potentially dangerous trend called "swatting."
"This is really becoming a national epidemic for law enforcement," Tangney said of the trend in which culprits call in fake emergencies to boast to friends, take revenge on enemies, skewer celebrities or watch responders descend like they did in Long Beach.
Maria Castillo, 54, who lives in the house with her two sons, told reporters afterward that she was making coffee in the kitchen when she saw officers on her front lawn with weapons drawn and screaming, "Go! Go! Get out!"
Her son Rafael Castillo, 17, was inside the house playing video games at the time and had his headphones on, she said.
When she came out, officers pulled her away to ask if there was a shooter inside, said Long Beach Lt. Mark Stark, who spoke to the mother at the scene.
Fearing for her child, "she kept saying, 'My son, my son,' " Stark recalled.
For 20 minutes, authorities called the teenager on the phone, but he didn't pick up, Stark said: "He was playing the game."
Finally, the teenager answered a call from his older brother and emerged from the house, police said.
SWAT teams then searched the two-story house where the Castillos live on the first floor, police said.
About 4:30 p.m., the all-clear was given, Stark said.
Tangney said the other player is a potential suspect, who could be charged with falsely reporting an incident and billed for a $100,000 emergency response.
He said authorities suspected a hoax because the call was made to the department's regular telephone number, not 911, which has tracking capabilities. The caller also used Skype, a free online communications system that takes more steps than a phone, Tangney said.
Rafael's older brother said the family was stunned.
"He didn't do anything wrong," said an emotional Jose Castillo, 21. "I guess someone got mad or something."
Tangney said the city was "lucky" no other emergency occurred while the hoax gripped police, including MTA officers, firefighters and at least four Nassau police ambulances.
"I'm very angry," he said. "It's a tremendous waste of taxpayers' resources."
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service