HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – An 18-year-old has been arrested in Canada after investigators traced “swatting” calls at Volunteer High School in Hawkins County and Watauga High School in Boone, N.C. to him.
According to a release from the Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian authorities received a request to help the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security after both schools were placed on lockdowns in lockdown.
In both instances, a male caller told police that he was inside the schools with a gun and intended to shoot others.
Swatting is the use of a phoned-in fake threat to make authorities believe there is a life-threatening situation, leading to an armed response.
Northeast State University Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Eric Scott Stanton said these types of crimes are designed to create fear and chaos.
“The individual responsible for this, they absolutely don’t care,” Stanton said. “This is usually done, in my opinion, by a deranged individual that does not care about the psychological welfare of the faculty, staff, students and parents.”
Stanton said these situations can become dangerous because law enforcements treats them like true threats. That means rushing to the scene of the perceived threat and heading in with weapons.
Only one student was injured during the August 10 threat after suffering a panic attack.
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office also issued a release Wednesday confirming the details.
On August 10, police and first responders rushed to Volunteer High School after the call was received. Students were taken to the nearby National Guard Armory, and the school was searched. Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said later that the threat appeared to be a “hoax” and it would be investigated.
A week later, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office reported they believed the call had originated from outside of Tennessee.
On August 18, a similar situation occurred at Watauga High School in Boone. A caller claiming to be a distraught child told dispatchers he was going to harm students at the school. After a lockdown, police were unable to locate a suspect or threat and described the incident as “very similar” to the one at Volunteer High.
On Wednesday, September 8, RCMP stated that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had found that the calls in question had come from a phone number registered to a home in Manitoba province of Canada.
“Further investigation by the RCMP and Winnipeg Police Service determined that the residence was located on the Fisher River Cree Nation,” the release states.
A search warrant was executed at a home on August 30, and the RCMP reports multiple electronic devices were seized.
Hawkins County Director of Schools Matt Hixson was surprised to learn the threat came from a completely different country.
“The details as to what he stated he was going to do with the gun and the damage he was potentially going to cause, it didn’t make sense that it was that far removed from the situation,” Hixson said.
Stanton said swatting incidents, although the threat of bodily harm is false, can still have lasting mental health effects, including PTSD. Counselors from several entities were brought to Volunteer High School to help students and staff with stress.
The 18-year-old suspect was taken into custody. RCMP identified the suspect only as a male.
He was later released for a court date of December 7, 2021 in Manitoba.