It was Friday, April 24, just six days after the mass shooting started in Nova Scotia, and only hours after an emergency alert was issued that set off cell phones across the province about shots fired at two locations outside Halifax.
The whole province was on edge, but a family of four in Lake Echo, N.S., was blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding outside their home at 11 p.m. AT that night.
“I would not want anyone, even my worst enemy, to have to go through this, especially with small kids because that will stay with them for a long time,” said the homeowner, whom CBC News is not naming because of safety concerns.
RCMP had issued a tweet about a firearms call on their street, warning people in the area to stay inside and those elsewhere to stay away.
“We were all dead asleep. My daughter came into our room and was having trouble sleeping. She said there was a man on our front lawn yelling into a microphone,” the homeowner said.
Still half asleep, she went downstairs and looked outside.
“I was very hesitant about going to the front door after what had happened [in Portapique], so once I saw a man in a police uniform, I lost my mind!” she said.
On April 18-19, a gunman went on a killing rampage through central Nova Scotia that left 22 victims dead. The gunman was driving a replica RCMP vehicle for part of his rampage and was also wearing an RCMP uniform that was mostly authentic.
When the homeowner peeked out her door, she saw flashlights in her yard, the neighbour’s yard and on properties across the street.
“I saw two SWAT members coming around the corner of my house with guns pointed at us, asking if we could come out with our hands up, if everybody who lived at this address was home and if they could come out with their hands above their heads,” the homeowner said.
The woman, her husband and their two daughters did as they were told, scared and uncertain about what was going on.
‘It was terrifying’
A few houses down and across the street, a neighbour and friend was alerted to the unfolding drama when her doorbell intercom rang.
“It was terrifying. Just the buzz at my door and the person identifying themselves as an RCMP officer terrified me,” the neighbour said. “All I could think about was Portapique and I was thinking, ‘This can’t be happening.'”
She asked the officer how she could verify that he really was a police officer. He provided his name and she called 911 to confirm his identity and that he was at her home. The officer then told her to stay inside and keep her lights off.
She complied and watched the scene across the street, where police had surrounded her friend’s home and were positioned up and down the street.
“There were police in the ditches. There were police in the woods. They kept just screaming, ‘Residents of this address, come out with your hands up. We have you surrounded,'” she said.
Back at the home in question, the family was still trying to clear their sleepy brains and process what was happening.
The homeowner said once police confirmed everything was OK, an RCMP officer told her a 911 call had reported a child injuring a parent and a bomb under her deck.
The homeowner said the officer called this “swatting,” which was a term she hadn’t heard of.
Swatting involves falsely reporting a serious incident, in the hopes it draws a response that includes heavily-armed tactical squads like a SWAT team.
The homeowner said police apologized for disturbing them, but explained they had to take those calls seriously.
After the police left, the homeowner said the whole family was shaken up and her girls were crying.
“My kids would not go back to sleep that night,” she said.
She said her phone was ringing off the hook with neighbours calling to check in.
The next day, everything seemed OK.
But then at 6 p.m., a $60 pizza order arrived, followed by four more. Two airport taxis showed up later. Around midnight, a tow truck pulled up to their home.
All of those orders were placed from an untraceable phone number by someone who identified himself as Brandon.
The name was familiar to the family because when they first moved into their home and got a new phone number, they received harassing calls for Brandon. It became such a problem they changed their number.
Police don’t track swatting incidents
Halifax District RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Lisa Croteau said the force does not use the term swatting. They refer to incidents like this one as “unfounded.”
Croteau was not able to say how many similar calls there have been in recent months because the force does not track unfounded reports.
She was unable to say how many officers responded to the call.
A Halifax Regional Police spokesperson said members of their emergency response team did assist RCMP on the call. The spokesperson would not disclose the number of Halifax Regional Police officers who responded.