Possible 'swatting' incidents under investigation after threats at Metrotown and in Port Moody
Police in Metro Vancouver are investigating a series of suspected "swatting" incidents that happened in the span of a few hours Friday.
Burnaby RCMP and Metro Vancouver Transit Police were called to Metrotown mall and the nearby SkyTrain station due to reports of gunshots on Friday afternoon.
Transit police responded to an incident at the SkyTrain station, adjacent to the mall, sometime before 3 p.m., and RCMP officers were quickly called in to help. Then, according to Burnaby RCMP, police got reports of an incident inside the mall, and sent officers to that scene as well.
Around 3:20 p.m., a few kilometres away in Port Moody, the local police department received a report of a bomb threat at Seaview Elementary School.
Officers from the Port Moody Police Department responded to the school, where class was not in session, and worked to evacuate the building, which had "several user groups and staff" inside, according to a news release from PMPD.
With the help of the Lower Mainland Integrated Police Dog Service, officers searched the school and determined that the threat was unfounded.
"At this time, we believe this incident to be a prank, often referred to as 'swatting,'" Port Moody police said in their release.
Officers arrested "a youth suspect" for public mischief, police said, adding that the suspect had been released.
Back in Burnaby, transit police and RCMP asked people to stay away from the area as they evacuated the mall and conducted a grid search looking for a gunman and a pipe bomb.
"No threat was found, and there were no injuries," Burnaby RCMP said in a news release Friday evening.
"The incident at Metrotown Station was also determined to be unfounded."
The scene at the mall was cleared around 6:30 p.m., but police said they expected the mall would remain closed to the public for the rest of the night.
Port Moody police referenced the Metrotown incidents in their statement Friday night, saying officers from all three agencies are working to determine whether the three unfounded threats are related.
'EVERYONE WAS CRYING AND YELLING'
Bryan Vergera was at the mall getting a haircut when officials ordered the evacuation.
“All of a sudden, the alarms went off and the PA announcer said there was an active shooter in the mall,” he told CTV News Vancouver after the incident.
“Everyone was crying and yelling and screaming and it was like one big … commotion. Everyone was, like, running through the doors, like an earthquake was happening.”
People who were on scene as the evacuation took place also took to social media to share bits of their experience.
“I work at the food court and we’re all basically 'hiding' in the parking lot,” said one user.
Another person said cops had been on scene with large rifles.
“So my mom and I were just evacuated from Metrotown mall amongst people running and screaming while cops with assault rifles roaming the halls.”
Burnaby RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Kalanj said in the news release that police are working to determine whether the Metrotown incidents were also cases of "swatting."
He offered his sympathies to those caught up in the incident, but stressed that police have to take such calls seriously in order to protect the public.
“We understand this was a dynamic and distressing situation for the public and those in the area, with customers and staff taking shelter in stores in the mall, and others evacuating from the building," Kalanj said. “We are thankful this isn’t a situation that is often faced in Canada, and are grateful this call was unfounded and nobody was hurt.”
He noted that swatting is a criminal offence.
“As we saw today, these unfounded reports prompt a large response from first responders, who must take these incidents seriously to protect the public," Kalanj said.