His name is Aubrey Cottle and he didn’t get much sleep on Thursday. That’s because he – along with his mother and his girlfriend - were all awakened in the middle of the night by some unexpected intruders: a huge phalanx of heavily armed police officers.
And while they weren’t exactly home invaders, they did have reason to think someone dangerous was inside the man’s Vesta Drive home, in the Bathurst and Eglinton area.
It all started when police received a 911 call telling them to rush to the family’s apartment, where an armed man was holding hostages and firing off bullets. The Emergency Task Force showed up in a hurry, closing down the street and silently sidling up to the residence, before breaking down the door.
Only those inside were more surprised than police by what was discovered – three people fast asleep, blissfully unaware of the action taking place around them.
“I got out of bed, I open up my bedroom door, walked over to the front door and had an automatic combat shotgun in my face,” Cottle recalls. ”When you’re getting woken up at 4:30 in the morning by a whole bunch of cops with automatic weapons and then finding out that they’ve blocked off the entire street outside - pretty unsettling.”
Cops now think it was a prank and are looking for whoever made that call. But Aubrey is sure he knows and doubts they’ll have much luck finding the culprit – because he’s sure the guy is located a world away in Australia.
It turns out the young man runs his own online chat website called 420chan and has been harassed by someone Down Under who has crashed his service, written threatening notes and generally been impossible to deal with.
“He’s been saying for the last couple of days ‘yeah “I’m sending the SWAT team to your house.’”
Why would he do that? “Because he thinks it’s funny,” he shrugs.
Aubrey has managed to penetrate the man’s screen name, and now has his name and address. But getting him to stop may not be quite so easy. If it was the Aussie man, the suspect went to extremes to set up the unfunny joke.
“They told me that the guy had called faking the call as if it had come from my cell phone number,” Cottle explains. “And said that there was currently an armed robbery in progress. That I had kidnapped a girl and played audio files of gunshots in the background, fooling them into thinking there actually was somebody here with a gun.”
Cops are furious that anyone – no matter where they’re from – would take such a dangerous and unnecessary step. “In regards to a false call, the main issue is that legitimate people with concerns that are calling in, their lives may be jeopardized,” P.C. Tony Vella laments.
Why did they respond with such force? “In this particular case, there was a potential for danger, and there was a gun call,” Vella reveals.
Cops admit they’d like to lay mischief charges in the case, but given the distance the suspect is from the scene of the crime, it’s unlikely anything will happen.
The 911 system exists in much of the world, although often with different numbers. In Great Britain for example, the emergency digits are 999 – but the intent and the results are the same.
Cops have long been plagued by 911 misdials, prank calls and other nuisances involving the service, which can add up to trouble. They’re required to investigate the hang-up calls or false reports, even if they know there’s likely not to be anything there. That wastes valuable time and resources and worse, keeps personnel from responding to real emergencies.
They’re also vexed by people who insist on putting 911 into their speed dials, a process that inevitably ends up calling the number and creating the same trouble.
Calling 911 when you don’t need it is punishable by big fines and even jail terms. All calls are taped and unless you’re on some Voice over Internet Protocol phones, police know where you are as soon as you make the connection.
Still, cops encourage you to use the service if you really need it. When should you make that call and when should you dial the regular police number of (416) 808-2222? Here’s the criteria from Toronto Police.
When to call:
- Crimes in progress, like home invasions or robberies
- Dire health emergencies like heart attacks or strokes
- Anytime people or property are at risk
When not to call:
- For information about school closings, road conditions, directions, etc.
- For directory assistance
- For information about paying parking tickets
- When you’re bored and just want to talk.
- When it’s not a true emergency.
For more on 911, the languages available and the warnings about cell phone and Internet services, click here.