Bomb threat ‘swatters’ target Aspen hotel’s webcams
December 2, 2016
Sunday’s bomb threat at a downtown Aspen hotel was the third time in less than a year and a half that it has been targeted by so-called “swatters,” a police detective said Thursday.
And while no explosive devices have been found, the presence of web cameras at the Aspen Square Hotel indicate that an internet prankster or pranksters — also known as swatters — had likely called in the bomb threats and then tuned into the cameras to watch police respond, said Jeff Fain, a detective with the Aspen Police Department.
“It’s really just a sick way for people to get off and mess with the cops,” Fain said.
The Aspen Square on East Cooper Avenue appears to be the only hotel in town with publicly accessible web cameras showing areas of the hotel and its surroundings, according to Google searches. Other hotels feature webcams documenting mountain ski conditions, but do not point the cameras internally.
The Aspen Square’s four webcams show the former Boogie’s building at the corner of Cooper Avenue and Hunter Street, the Gondola Plaza, Aspen Mountain and the hotel’s pool and courtyard. The Aspen Square also is the only hotel in town that has received bomb threats in the past year and a half, Fain said.
However, despite the intermittent hassles, the hotel has no plans to dismantle the cameras, said Warren Klug, Aspen Square general manager.
“The webcams get an amazing amount of traffic,” Klug said. “People really like them.”
Hotel officials take any threats seriously and applaud the efforts of police, who have done the same, he said. However, the bomb threats don’t appear to be serious, Klug said.
“It doesn’t sound like someone is putting something together,” he said. “It doesn’t sound serious.”
Fain echoed those comments but said police must take such threats seriously on the outside chance they are true.
“It’s just something we can’t not take seriously,” he said. “What if terrorists are setting us up (with the false alarms), then lo and behold, the Aspen Square blows up?”
Police have responded to each call and checked out the building and surrounding areas, though the hotel has never been evacuated, Klug and Fain said. Aspen police redacted a police report about Sunday’s incident they said revealed operational details of their bomb threat response they didn’t want the public to know, so other details of the situation are not known.
What is known is that an unidentified male called dispatch Sunday at about 6:10 p.m. from an unknown number and said he’d placed pipe bombs around the hotel, according to the report. The man also said he had a 9mm handgun he would use to shoot responding police officers and anyone seen evacuating the hotel, the report states.
The man also said he’d be going to the hotel in 45 minutes to an hour, at which time “people will start dying,” according to the police report.
The man did not call dispatchers via 911, Fain said. If he had done so using a cellphone, the system would have automatically grabbed GPS coordinates and other identifying information from the phone, he said. Callers in the other two bomb threats also didn’t use 911, Fain said.
Because of an equipment malfunction, Sunday’s call was not recorded, so Fain said he cannot deduce anything about the caller’s identity.
The man did, however, call the Aspen Square’s front desk, identify himself as “John” and make the same threats he did to dispatchers, according to the police report. He may have provided other information, but most of the rest of the report was blacked out by the Aspen Police Department, so that isn’t known.
A man who called in a bomb threat to Aspen Square in July 2015 identified himself as “John Harrison,” a 16-year-old from Canada visiting Aspen with a friend’s family, according to that police report. The person “sounded like a kid” and had what appeared to be a legitimate British accent, Fain said. He told dispatchers he could see a bomb on the steps of the hotel’s swimming pool, which he described as “round or oval, gray in color with a flashing green light on the back of it,” the report states.
The man stayed on the line with dispatchers for a significant amount of time and accurately described seeing police officers wearing blue shirts, other people in the area and said he was near the red umbrellas by the pool, according to the police report. Police in the pool area could not find him, the report states.
The caller then said a man in the bar pulled out “a vest,” was screaming “Allahu akbar” — which means “God is great” in Arabic — and had a gun, according to the report. Police on scene reported that everything was quiet.
Fain, who was in the dispatch center listening to the call, then got on the phone and told the man he thought he was watching on the webcams and would appreciate him not wasting police resources. The man then said “Allahu akbar” again and hung up, the report states.
Fain attempted to track IP addresses associated with the Aspen Square’s server, but found it was “a wild goose chase,” he said.
The second incident occurred in June, when a caller said someone placed two bombs under a FedEx truck parked near Aspen Square, and demanded that $30,000 be sent to Mexico in the next 10 minutes, Fain said. The person was obviously looking at the Aspen Square webcam pointed toward the former Boogie’s building, where delivery trucks frequently park during the day, he said.
An officer at the time checked the area and found no signs of explosive devices, Fain said.