Murder "Prank" At Web Privacy Advocate's House Spurs SWAT Response
Caller said he had killed four, taken two others hostage in Hillcrest Avenue house in Wyckoff
A three-hour police lockdown of a Wyckoff neighborhood Saturday ended when SWAT team members entered the home of a prominent Internet lawyer and found it empty, authorities said.
Wyckoff Police received a call at 3:38 p.m. from a man who said he had killed four people in a house on Hillcrest Avenue near Newtown Road, wounded a young girl and taken two others hostage, Police Chief Benjamin Fox said. The caller also said he had explosives in the house, and demanded a $10,000 ransom and a getaway car, Fox said.
But when the Bergen County SWAT team entered the house at around 6:30 p.m., nobody was inside.
"This ultimately was some sort of prank," Fox said.
The home is owned by Parry Aftab, a top Internet security lawyer and advisor. Aftab runs WiredSafety.org and created an anti-cyber-bullying organization. She has advised major firms on cybersecurity, including Facebook, and is considered one of the leading Internet cybercrime experts in the world.
It's not clear if the caller targeted Aftab's home. Reached by police during the standoff, Aftab told police the house should be empty.
About 30 local and county officers locked down a stretch of Hillcrest Avenue and secured a perimeter around the house. Immediate neighbors were ordered from their homes, and other people living in the area were told to stay inside, Fox said.
"We did what we had to do," Fox said. "There was just too much information to not pursue this to make sure the interior of this house was safe."
There was no response to verbal commands from police ordering anyone inside to exit the house, but police said they saw shadows and movements in the house that suggested someone could have been inside. At about 6:30 p.m., four "pops" rang through the air, the sound of tear gas being fired through the windows of the house.
After another 30-minute wait, again with no response from inside the house, four members of the Bergen County SWAT team entered the home, and found the shadows were just that. The house was deserted, and there was no evidence of the violence that had reportedly taken place.
"Obviously it didn't happen," Fox concluded, briefing a crowd of reporters and curious neighbors as a convoy of police vehicles drove away. "So what was reported is not real. Why that was done, I don't know."
In the end, the greatest danger to the police was heat exhaustion. An ambulance crew deployed a stretcher, but only to ferry bottles of water around.
Fox said police are investigating who was responsible for the hoax. They have the number used to make the call.