Police get report of a shooting only to find out it was a prank

Palo Alto police surrounded a house on Emerson Street last night after getting a call about a shooting — which turned out to be a hoax. Post photo by Allison Levitsky.

Daily Post Staff Writer

12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9 — The Palo Alto police briefly detained a Facebook cyber-security executive Tuesday night (Jan. 8) after a prankster impersonated him in a 911 call, claiming to have shot his wife, tied up his kids and to have put “pipe bombs all over the place.”

Police Agent Marianna Villaescusa said that around 9:15 p.m. the caller falsely identified himself by the exec’s name and claimed to have shot his wife with an assault rifle.

The prankster told police he would kill anyone who came near or tried to help him, said Villaescusa, who was working as the police negotiator last night and spoke to the prankster.

At least 10 vehicles from the Palo Alto Police Department, the Stanford Department of Public Safety and a Palo Alto Fire Department ambulance surrounded the two-bedroom house in the 900 block of Emerson Street and blocked off that street and Channing Avenue for about an hour.

The prankster stayed on the phone with Villaescusa until 10:02 p.m. She said he “didn’t talk much” and police haven’t identified him.

The Facebook executive, who is in his late 30s, appeared calm when he was handcuffed outside his two-bedroom house on Emerson Street.

Villaescusa said the man, who came out of the house after police ordered him out over a loudspeaker, told police that he didn’t know what was going on.

A woman in her late 30s who lives in a separate unit was also briefly detained.

While both residents were handcuffed and talking to police, two teams of police officers carrying a special shield checked the house. The scene was cleared at 10:15 p.m.

The prank is called “swatting,” when somebody, usually in another city, calls police to report an emergency in an attempt to bring about a large number of armed police officers to a particular address.

Villaescusa said incidents like this have happened in Palo Alto from time to time.

A lockdown at Palo Alto High School on March 29 turned out to be a hoax by someone who called in a school shooting threat from a teenager’s lost cellphone.

Villaescusa recalled working another swatting call at a home off of Edgewood Drive sometime in the last 18 months or so. That call victimized a high-profile person in the cryptocurrency world, Villaescusa said.

The emergency response to last night’s prank wasted police resources and delayed response to other calls, Villaescusa said.

But the department was prepared for the call, with Villaescusa on duty as a senior negotiator along with a SWAT sergeant, two SWAT officers and the sergeant who is in charge of training negotiators.

Firefighters have also been training on how to assist police in an active shooter situation and were wearing ballistic helmets at the scene.

After the home was cleared, police gathered back at the station for a quick debriefing session to discuss how they could improve their response next time.

“We have to be harsh on ourselves,” Villaescusa said.

10:14 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 8 — Palo Alto police responded to a call tonight of a man who had shot his wife in their home downtown only to find out that it was a prank perpetrated by somebody else.

At 9:16 p.m., dispatchers told patrol officers over the police radio that they got a call from a man on Emerson Street who said he had shot his wife.

Police sped to the location and surrounded the house. Soon the SWAT team arrived. At about 9:45, police detained two people, who have not been identified.

At 10:10 p.m., police told a Post reporter that the incident was a prank and that nobody had been shot.

The prank is called “swatting,” when somebody usually in another city calls police to report an emergency in an attempt to bring about a large number of armed police officers to the home of a targeted person.


  1. I don’t like the use of the word “prank” in this story. I think of a prank as something funny, and there’s nothing funny about this. Police might have overreacted and killed somebody. I’m glad the Palo Alto Police are well trained and handle these things with caution rather than guns blazing.

  2. I think I know who this guy is, and while I won’t post his name here, I believe his job is to track down trolls and other malicious types. And he worked at a pretty high level, maybe not C-suite, but right up there. I’m also guessing this is retaliation. I hope the police can catch the perp.

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