A high-profile swatting hoax at a Newbury Park, Calif. inn has - after months of investigation - been traced to a feud between online gamers, according to the lead detective and court records.
It resulted in a Massachusetts man being sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
On Jan. 2, authorities responded to the La Quinta Inn after an anonymous caller said he had "bombs, hostages, and guns," recalled Ventura County sheriff's Detective Todd Welty, who led the investigation.
The call appeared to come from a local 805 area code number, but had in fact been digitally "spoofed," detectives learned from the phone company. Another call purporting to be a news tip about a bomb threat was placed that morning to the NBC4 newsroom.
Local news from across Southern California
"The voice sounded a little suspicious," recalled assignment editor Rosa Ordaz, who took the call. "It did not sound like a concerned citizen from the community."
The call to the newsroom had been placed by the same person who called police, authorities later concluded. Hoaxes intended to lure out swat teams and other major law enforcement resources have been dubbed "swatting."
Tracing the calls would take months of "peeling the layers off the onion," as Welty described the process. The calls had been placed through the Internet, and the caller had been technologically savvy enough to shield the source computer by using a clone of a modem.
Early on, detectives had come in contact with an avid online gamer who was staying with his mother at the La Quinta Inn. Initially he was suspected of being the "swatter"--as the actual caller apparently had intended. But the man staying at the inn was ruled out when investigtion revealed the hoax calls had actually come from out of state. The local gamer told investigators he suspected he may have been targeted by a former gaming friend with whom there had been a falling out.
They had become acquainted over the internet, but had never met in person. Ultimately the calls were traced to Athol, Mass., to a computer used by Nathan Hanshaw, 22, who lived with his parents and previously had been convicted of computer crimes when he was 17.
Working with the Ventura County Sheriff, the FBI made the arrest over summer, and Hanshaw agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of making interstate threats to use explosives and firearms. He was sentenced last week.
Unemployed and a high school dropout, Hanshaw spent as many as 18 hours a day gaming online, Welty said. Hanshaw had used the online handle, "DShocker," in the 2008 case that involved hacking into a corporate computer system.
The identity of the other gamer believed to have been the target was not disclosed. He could not be reached for comment. Swatting has become a growing concern for law enforcement after a series of calls naming the homes of celebririties.
In September, Gov. Brown signed a bill requiring those convicted in swatting cases to pay restitution for the cost of the law enforcement response, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The Los Angeles City Council has approved a measured to offer rewards for tips that expose swatters.