In February of this year, a hoax call about an armed suspect inside Yorktown High School holding hostages triggered a lockdown, evacuations and a massive police response.
That incident is now informing one of Arlington’s legislative priorities for the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session. The Arlington County Board and School Board are calling for a law that specifically names and criminalizes false calls to police, describing a life-threatening situation, with the intent to trigger a police response. It is widely known as “swatting” because of the SWAT teams it sometimes elicits.
Swatting is on the rise in Arlington County, according to Lt. Matt Martin of the Arlington County Police Department. There have been four instances in 2022 so far, up from two in 2021 and one incident per year from 2018 through 2020. (Martin says because there is no swatting category in crime statistics, these numbers were pulled manually based on case facts and may not be comprehensive.)
In nearby Fairfax County, there were 11 such incidents in 2020 and 30 in 2021, a police spokesperson previously told our sister site, FFXnow. There were four such incidents in Alexandria this year.
“Swatting has been on law enforcement radar for 15 years,” says Martin. “The intent is to send officers to a call where someone’s life is at risk, which ups the ante, and ups our response.”
It started in the online gaming community, when people would call the police on their target in response to a slight or unpaid bet, Martin says. It has since become a nationwide problem, one where even identifying those behind the incidents can be tricky, says ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage.
“The person that calls in could realistically call in anywhere in the world, which leads to a challenge for identifying them,” she said.
In September, hoax calls triggered a police response at Washington-Liberty High School and several other schools across the state, including in Loudoun and Fauquier counties. W-L was previously evacuated in October 2021 after a false report of an active shooter.
A 19-year-old man from Vienna was sentenced last year for his roles in numerous swatting attacks that targeted journalists, the Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, which has a predominantly Black congregation.
Swatting not only applies to pranksters calling the police, but also to people who call others — schools, for instance — and describe a threat that prompts them to call 911. But Virginia law only criminalizes making a false report, which means people who spread false information but don’t make the call can’t be charged with a crime.
That is what police and elected officials would like to see changed.
“Any law that’s going to prohibit a behavior needs to define the behavior,” Martin said. “The detective who investigated [the Yorktown incident] came to me and said, ‘We looked at potential charges. Making an indirect call doesn’t violate Virginia law… It was that detective who recognized that gap in the law that started all of this.”
A recent Morning Notes post on ARLnow has resulted in a fake road sign being removed in Arlington.
ARLnow published the photo above, taken along N. Glebe Road near Chain Bridge, on Nov. 5. Though the construction sign in the foreground gets top billing, eagle-eyed readers might have noticed the “Adopt-a-Highway” sign behind it, which says — in the space reserved for the adopting organization — “PLEASE JUST RAISE TAXES.”
Was that strictly a prank, or did a group by that name really sign up, using the name to send a snarky message about the concept of volunteer roadway trash collection.
A regular ARLnow commenter, known as Smiley456, emailed VDOT to ask about it.
“Can you verify if the group mentioned on the Adopt a Highway sign either exists or someone defaced the sign?” Smiley456 asked in an email sent to the agency’s Adopt-a-Highway inbox earlier this month.
The answer that came back, from a VDOT employee, was that it was indeed a prank.
“Upon investigation we found that this current road section is available for adoption via the Adopt-a-Highway program,” the employee said. “The previous permit holder’s sign was vandalized with a look-alike VDOT sticker reading ‘PLEASE JUST RAISE TAXES.’ Currently we have removed this portion of the signage and have an order to remove the former Adopt-a-Highway group’s signage in process.”
“I appreciate you bringing this to my attention and allowing me to investigate and resolve this situation,” the employee added, attaching a photo of the removed portion of the sign.
Those interested in adopting that stretch of Glebe Road can find out more about the Adopt-a-Highway program on VDOT’s website.
Photo (below) via VDOT
No, That Wasn’t ‘The Bachelor’ in Ballston — “Today, the world paused to consider what would have been the biggest news story of the past 72 hours: Wait — was the Bachelor filming in freaking Ballston? Well, that was at least the question posed by a whistleblower this afternoon, who tweeted out a photograph of a couple dining outdoors surrounded by a camera crew.” [Washingtonian, Twitter]
Pranksters Dialing Rosslyn-Based Trump Hotline — “Trump campaign staffers have been huddled on a noisy floor in the campaign’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters fielding hundreds of calls a day on a hotline the campaign set up as they try to find instances of voter fraud, multiple sources told ABC News. But the hotline has… been bombarded with prank calls from people laughing or mocking them over Biden’s win before hanging up.” [ABC News, Washington Post]
Editor Rails Against Sports Decision, Media Gloom — “As for canceling the winter sports season… the coaches should have been part of the decision-making loop so they had a heads-up. Then again, maybe the pending arrival of our semi-comatose next president will lead the national media (which helped to haul him across the finish line) to stop the breathless 24/7 doom and gloom it relied on to eliminate Donald Trump, and we can start making decisions about the future like adults rather than weak-kneed scaredy-cats.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Couple Weds on GW Campus — “Law school graduate Ian Bryant-Smith and 2018 undergraduate alumna Sarah Breault gathered with a few friends at a high-top table in Kogan Plaza Thursday to sign their marriage papers and officially tie the knot. The couple, who had been dating since high school, said they decided to wed on campus because it was convenient, and their friends could easily access WiFi to project the ceremony to friends and family over Zoom.” [GW Hatchet]
ACPD Hails Four Retirees — “Last week we celebrated the distinguished careers of Captain Chris Hennigh, MPO Corporal Beth Lennon, Corporal Mike Lennon and Corporal Leo Garcia. Combined, they had over 100 years of service to the Arlington community and made significant impacts both within the agency and with those they served. We wish them all the best of luck in retirement and future endeavors!” [Facebook]
Holiday Closures Tomorrow — “Arlington County Government offices, courts, libraries & facilities will be closed on Wednesday, Nov. 11, for Veterans Day. Trash and recycling services will operate on a normal schedule. Metered parking will not be enforced.” [Arlington County]
Update at 2:15 p.m. — Office of Naval Research spokesman Doug Abbotts said that the flag is that of the building’s property manager, and it was left up overnight this week while the American flag was taken down. Abbotts said that while it looks like a plain white “surrender” flag, the logo is “faded, but it’s there.” The white flag has since been taken down.
For two days this week, the Office of Naval Research building, at 875 N. Randolph Street in Ballston, was flying a white flag on its flagpole, not its usual stars and stripes.
Lori Klein lives in the building behind ONR’s headquarters, and she said the flag was up Wednesday and Thursday nights before she talked to a security guard last night. This morning, the white flag was nowhere to be seen and the American flag was back in its normal place.
“I was walking my dog when I saw the flag, so I stopped a security guard and told him about it,” Klein told ARLnow.com over the phone today. “He had no idea it was up there.”
A spokeswoman for the ONR was not aware of the flag when first contacted by ARLnow.com.
The flag was seemingly reminiscent of the work of German artists this summer, who replaced two American flags on the Brooklyn Bridge with white flags.
If it was a prank “somebody really pulled something off… considering there are cameras and security guards all over the place, and how high alert they must be on,” Klein said.
The Office of Naval Research is an agency within the Dept. of Defense that “coordinates, executes, and promotes the science and technology programs of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.”
Photos courtesy Lori Klein
Despite signs posted on ground floor windows at the new 3001 Washington Blvd office building in Clarendon, we’re told that Chipotle is not, in fact, coming soon to the building.
The signs appeared on the windows at the corner of Washington Blvd and N. Garfield Street yesterday. Conspicuously, they were posted on the outside of the windows.
“We don’t have a sign on 3001 that says that… we haven’t been in any discussions with them,” said John Asadoorian, whose firm, Asadoorian Retail Solutions, is handling leasing for the building’s retail spaces.
The fake signs have, however, sparked jubilation among some local residents. On the Facebook page of the 1021 Clarendon condominium building across the street, residents who are soon to be disappointed were effusive in their temporary excitement.
“My dream has come true,” said one Facebook poster. “Now just walking distance!”
“OMG!” said another.
“Praise God! I have tears in my eyes,” wrote yet another.
Though it likely won’t generate the same level of Chipotlemania, there is at least one new restaurant coming to 3001 Washington Blvd that should generate some buzz. Citizen Burger Bar is expanding from its original Charlottesville location to a new location at the corner of N. Highland Street and 11th Street. The restaurant specializes in custom burgers and craft beers, but also serves sandwiches, wine and cocktails.
Also planned for 3001 Washington Blvd is a restaurant called “Bowl’d.” The owner appears to be a Donaldson Run resident, but no other information about the restaurant or the type of food it will serve was immediately available.
Drivers heading eastbound on Columbia Pike near S. Courthouse Road last night and this morning received an ominous warning courtesy of a hacked road sign.
“DANGER ZOMBIES AHEAD,” the sign read, startling some drivers en route to I-395 or the Pentagon.
It’s not the first electronic road sign in Arlington to be surreptitiously reprogrammed by local pranksters. Two years ago, on April 20, 2012, a similar sign near the Madison Community Center in North Arlington was reprogrammed to display “HAPPY 420!”
Photo courtesy celialarsen
Yesterday, an email was sent from Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy to Yorktown High School staff, informing them that classes had been cancelled for the remainder of the day.
The only problem? The email was a fake and was not actually sent by Dr. Murphy. According to a tipster, the email read:
Due to recent events, all Yorktown classes periods 7 and 8 will be cancelled. Please take appropriate measures and inform the sudents [sic] that they will be released early today, Wednesday May 22.
Have a nice day,
Unfortunately for students, Yorktown teachers and administrators didn’t fall for it. Yorktown was dismissed at its normal time, according to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos.
Erdos said the schools Information Services department is investigating the fake email. It’s unclear if the superintendent’s email account was hacked or if his email address was simply spoofed.
More on the Arlington Goat Prank — The Navy has confirmed that Bill the Goat, the U.S. Naval Academy mascot, was the goat that was found tied up in a median at the intersection of Army Navy Drive and S. Eads Street, near the Pentagon, this past weekend. The goat was “recovered Saturday morning in good condition.” The Army-Navy football game is Dec. 8 and a Navy spokeswoman noted: “Bill the Goat has been a part of our 10-game winning streak against Army, so we are glad to have him back before the big game next week.” [Navy Times]
Arlington GOP Counts Accomplishments — Even though Republican candidates did not win a single race in Arlington, members of the Arlington County Republican Committee are tallying some small victories. “We kept Arlington moving toward more common-sense policies,” said Matt Wavro, this year’s GOP County Board candidate. [Sun Gazette]
‘Shark Tank’ Charity Pitch Event — Twenty entrepreneurs from around Virginia will have a chance to pitch their business startup ideas to panel of business leaders and investors in Arlington this morning. The Shark Tank-like pitch competition will help raise money for charity. The event is taking place at the Ballston offices of Arlington Economic Development, but tickets are no longer available. [Eventbrite]
Halloween in Arlington was relatively quiet, but it was not without a few notable crimes.
The first incident started out as a mystery right out of a horror movie: several pools of blood were found this morning within a one block radius of Ray’s Hell Burger in the Rosslyn area.
One was found on the sidewalk along Wilson Boulevard, between N. Rhodes Street and N. Quinn Street.
Then, two more were reportedly found in the parking lot and elevator of an apartment building on the 1800 block of N. Quinn Street. Also at the scene: a bloody CVS bag with shampoo and cat food in it, according to a witness.
At first, police were baffled by the blood — no one had called the night before to report any nefarious acts in the area. One nearby resident even told police he had been up all night with the window open and hadn’t heard a thing. Eventually, though, investigators located the source of the gore: a man who lived in the apartment building in which the blood was found.
The man — who’s in his late 20s, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck — had a broken nose and a pair of black eyes. He didn’t remember much from the night before, but confirmed that he had been out drinking at nearby Red Hot and Blue, then left the restaurant and took a Lunesta sleeping pill. It was at that point that his memory got fuzzy. Police believe he got into some sort of altercation, but robbery was likely not the motive — he still had all his money and credit cards with him.
Police photographed and collected samples at the blood pools and then called the fire department to hose them down. Because the man couldn’t remember what happened, police don’t have much to go on in terms of finding a suspect.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Sternbeck said.
In Ballston, meanwhile, Halloween revelry took a dark turn when an intoxicated man hopped behind the bar of a restaurant on the 600 block of N. Glebe Road (in Ballston Common Mall) around 11:30 last night.
A female bartender confronted the man, at which time he grabbed a bottle of Amaretto and swung it at her, according to police. The bartender sustained a cut to her leg and was taken to Virginia Hospital Center. The man, identified as 30-year-old Jorge Zunagua of Alexandria, was detained by security, arrested and charged with malicious wounding.
Elsewhere in Arlington, a couple of instances of mischief were reported. One house was egged and one of its windows was somehow broken as a result, according to Sternbeck. He was unable to say where in Arlington the house was located.
In Virginia Square, pranksters rearranged the numbers on a gas station sign to suggest that regular unleaded gasoline was $7.43 per gallon. A passerby informed the manager of the station (Japanese Auto Service) of the prank.
Photo (bottom) courtesy James Webster
A road sign in North Arlington is wishing everyone who drives or walks by a “Happy 420.”
The greeting, on a day that is closely associated with cannabis culture, was likely the result of the same sort of electronic road sign hack that pranksters have used to warn of “Zombies Ahead” or “The British Are Coming.”
A tipster tells us the sign, which is located outside the Madison Community Center on Old Glebe Road, was originally advising drivers of road closures due to water main work nearby.
Photo courtesy James D.
Pentagon City Water Balloon Prank Shatters Windshield — Someone apparently thought it would be funny to throw water balloons at cars leaving the Pentagon City mall parking garage on 15th Street. Perhaps it was funny, up until the point where one of the water balloons hit the windshield of a family’s minivan and shattered it as they were driving. [WUSA9]
Groundbreaking Set for Arlington Mill Center — The ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street) has been set for 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24. [Sun Gazette]
Burglaries from Secure EFC Parking Garage — Two Cadillac Escalade SUVs had their tires and wheels stolen from the ‘secure’ parking garage under the luxury Crescent Falls Church apartment building (2121 Westmoreland Street) in East Falls Church yesterday morning, according to residents. Police are investigating.
Artisphere’s Shakespeare Co. Gets New Name — Washington Shakespeare Company, which now counts Rosslyn’s Artisphere as its home base, has a new name. The scrappy theater company is now known as WSC Avant Bard. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Jason OX4