LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Just before the dinner rush on Monday, Steve Holm’s restaurant in north Lakeland was suddenly and inexplicably surrounded by police officers.
“There was a show of force with Lakeland Police Department at the front door and then as I looked out the window I saw that they had multiple units surrounding the property, all access points,” said Holm, managing partner at Ford’s Garage in Lakeland. “I pray that I never experience anything like it again.”
Somebody had reported a fake mass shooting at the restaurant.
“Hello, there is an active shooter,” the caller said in the 911 recording obtained by News Channel 8.
“Nine people are hiding in the bathroom. Twenty-four people have been shot in the restaurant,” the caller falsely went on to say.
While officers were on their way, the experienced 911 dispatcher began to get suspicious of the call.
“You keep saying 24 people have been shot. That’s very specific. Did you see 24 people get shot?” he asked the caller.
“Yes, yes,” the caller responded.
There were other red flags as well, according to police.
“Normally if you have a horrible situation like that, you’re going to be receiving multiple calls in the call center,” Public Information Officer Robin Tillett with the Lakeland Police Department said.
There was only one 911 call.
Officers on scene kept customers and staff at Ford’s Garage calm and cleared the building.
“Scared me to my core. The first thing I had to do was call my wife and tell her, ‘hey everybody’s OK’ because we started getting questions that people had noticed on the internet,” said Holm.
Holm does not know why his restaurant was targeted.
“There’s people out there that just — doesn’t make sense why they do the things they do. I can’t quite wrap my head around it,” he said. “It made me go home and get my son out of bed and give him a big hug.”
What happened at Ford’s Garage is called swatting. People call 911 with false claims of a crime being committed, sending large amounts of law enforcement officials to a specific location.
The home of Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was targeted twice last month.
“It is definitely a huge waste of resources, whether it’s a few minutes or a lot of time there. It involves 911, officers responding to the scene, EMS, sometimes paramedics,” said Tillett.
It can also pose a danger to officers and the public, Tillett added.
“Anytime we have officers going lights and sirens to a scene, there’s added concerns with vehicles on the roadway, especially at that time where people are starting to get off work,” said Tillett.
Tillett said Lakeland has not experienced any other incidents of swatting.
Detectives are working to identify and arrest the 911 caller. Charges against them would include filing a false report to law enforcement, a third-degree felony.