An unfounded call reporting a crime at Neverland Ranch, former home of Michael Jackson, shines a spotlight on "swatting," a prank designed to attract SWAT teams and first responders to a given location.
Santa Barbara County sheriff's officials have confirmed that the Tuesday afternoon call reporting gunshots at the 2,700-acre ranch in Los Olivos was a hoax.
“After three hours of searching the property which expands several thousand acres and includes several structures, the call was determined to be unfounded. There was no evidence of a crime or anything suspicious in nature,” said Kelly Hoover, public information officer for the Sheriff's Department.
Emergency personnel received the call at 3:45 p.m. “alleging a serious crime at the ranch,” Hoover said. She would not provide details of the call or disclose what crime was reported.
Representatives from Colony Capital LLC., the Los Angeles-based real estate firm that owns the property, however, said the call involved reports of gunshots on the property.
“There was some kind of swatting call. Someone found a way to make it look as if there was an incident at the ranch and called emergency services — actually no call came from the ranch. There was no issue, nothing happened,” Colony Capital spokesperson Owen Bliksilver said.
Hoover said that if no crime was committed, people would be “looking for whoever made the phone call to make sure they are responsible.”
Swatting has been gaining prominence since 2013 when a series of celebrities were victimized.
A 12-year old boy later admitted that he called in false reports of intruders armed with explosives and guns at actor Ashton Kutcher’s home.
Former State Sen. Ted Lieu, who became a swatting victim when pranksters alleged he shot his wife to death in his Torrance home, authored SB 333 in 2013, holding swatters fully responsible for costs associated with scrambling first responders.
Costs of deploying emergency personnel, and an exact number of officials on the scene Tuesday, were not immediately available, Hoover said.
At least one other hoax phone call has been made in Santa Barbara County, Hoover said. It followed the 2014 Isla Vista killing spree in which Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 others before taking his own life.
The call Tuesday tied down dozens of emergency services personnel for more than three hours, including California Highway Patrol officers, paramedics, sheriff's deputies, Santa Barbara County Fire officials and a helicopter providing air support.
Many of those first responders did not have details about what police were investigating.
“We were just told to come here and be on standby,” one American Medical Response paramedic said Tuesday while waiting outside Neverland Ranch’s iconic front gates.
Sheriff’s deputies have to be careful of publicizing calls of this nature, Hoover said, because it’s often what scammers want.
“They want the publicity,” Hoover said.