Our opinion: No room for swatting

Published 9:54 pm Friday, September 23, 2022

Wednesday’s events surrounding a rash of “swatting” calls around the United States and in Minnesota is a stark reminder of the challenges we as a society are dealing with.

Both Austin and Albert Lea received threats of an active shooter Wednesday, after a heavy law enforcement presence descended on Rochester Lourdes earlier in the morning.

This also comes as nationally-known “commentator” Alex Jones is being rightfully pulled through a grinder of trials and lawsuits related to the Sandy Hook mass shooting that took the lives of 28 people — 20 of them being children — and injured two in 2012.

Jones was vocal in the days, months and years after the shooting on his — and let’s be frank here — travesty of a show, Infowars, which sheds falsehoods and lies at the whim of its host, that Sandy Hook was a false flag operation featuring actors in the roles of parents and victims.

There is no room, at all, for any of these false accusations or swatting calls. They have serious consquences.

The act of swatting itself is an act of calling police and telling them of a threat in order to get a large police reaction to respond to a certain location. Unfortunately, this in some cases has led to the death of innocent people in other cases around the country.

In 2019, a California man was handed a 20-year sentence after a swatting call led to the death of Andrew Finch. The call, placed by Tyler Barriss, claimed that Finch had weapons and was holding hostages. Finch was shot by police when he answered the door.

We can all breathe a sigh of relief that no such incident happened Wednesday, when the reality reflects that it could well have been possible. We can also be thankful how Austin Public Schools and law enforcement handled the situation. Both institutions lauded the students, teachers and each other for the professional and calm manner in which the report was investigated and handled.

But let’s look at the reality that this even happened at all, in a country that has soaring cases of mass shootings in schools, churches or other public places. It’s a shame that we are even having these conversations at all. That we are even in the position of noting how well we handle a potential active shooter or worse case scenario, an actual shooting.

What kind of world are we living in where someone thinks — for whatever reason — that this is somehow funny to direct law enforcement to a fake call that could easily and frightfully put someone’s life at risk?

Of course, we join the voices of those who calmly approached the situation, but we can’t help but feel sadness that there was even one student — anywhere in the nation — that at some point thought, “this is the day I might die.” Or a parent who got Wednesday’s email from the district, telling them of a lockdown and then began to find out why. What must have gone through their head when they read that email, knowing that there have been cases around the country in previous years that have ended much, much worse?

We, as a society, have to do better. We have to be better people. If this was done for a cheap laugh, then should the perpetrators ever be arrested, they still should face a steep price for that cheap laugh. If it was done for a more malicious reason, then that price should be even higher.

Again, we need to improve and we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, what can we do individually to make things better?

We sincerely hope we find that answer sooner than later.