HAWLEY, Minn. — Authorities continued to investigate Wednesday Aug., 14, after a false report of a hostage situation prompted a large police response at a Hawley residence in a prank call that could have turned deadly.
More than a dozen law enforcement officers responded after dispatchers received a report at around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday from a male caller on an unknown number claiming to be the owner of a home on the 1000 block of Hartford Street.
“Hello, I have my kids tied up in the basement right now and I want a hostage negotiator,” the caller can be heard telling dispatchers in a recording. “If you don’t come right now, I’m going to shoot them."
The caller claimed to be Hawley resident Todd Rendon, though he declined to give a phone number and at one point said he was located in “Hawley, Manhattan.”
While the caller provided vague, inaccurate details to dispatchers, police didn’t take chances and responded in full force.
Soon after, officers arrived at the home in what Clay County Sheriff Mark Empting described as “active shooter” equipment, including helmets and rifles — all while people returned from work to the neighborhood.
Hawley Police Chief Joe Backlund said the situation was especially intense because of all the activity around the house.
“There are daycares here; people picking up children,” he explained. “So we have to take that into account. Do we evacuate neighbors?”
Officers set up a perimeter and briefly took a man outside the residence into custody without incident. They also found an adolescent girl outside of the residence who they counseled at the scene, according to a news release.
The man who was taken into custody, Todd Rendon, said he feared for his life.
“Don’t kill me in front of my daughter,” he remembers thinking.
Officers said Rendon stood outside with his hands up and was very cooperative — something that made the situation a lot less dangerous for all involved.
"He was thanking us, very cordial, he could not happier with our response," Empting said.
Backlund said officers learned the call was a hoax when they realized it wasn’t the real Rendon who had made the threats and have now dubbed what happened Tuesday as a “swatting” incident — a type of criminal harassment where a caller falsely claims a life-threatening emergency is taking place in order to prompt a large response from police or first responders.
Swatting can be deadly. In 2017, a Wichita man was fatally shot by police after a disagreement emerged over a bet on an online video game. The man who made the call recently received a 20-year prison sentence. In August, a champion player of the hit online video game “Fortnite” was targeted by a swatting prank.
Agencies that responded to the incident said it’s the first time a residence in their area has been targeted by a swatting prank.
Rendon said he couldn't sleep or shower Wednesday, as he was too busy fielding calls from family and friends after the intense, scary moments that played out the evening before. The avid YouTuber said someone likely hacked his IP Address and called the Red River Regional Dispatch Center pretending to be him.
"It's almost like they have a textbook for them," Backlund explained about swatting, saying that hoaxers know exactly which buttons to push to provoke a large response.
Backlund said if a caller is identified, that person could face a terroristic threats charge, though he added charges could change depending on what police learn during their investigation.
With the swatting call now behind his family, Rendon said he is glad all went well during the dangerous situation at his home, realizing that a small misstep could have meant tragedy.
“Only one wrong move and you’re a statistic,” he said.
InForum Digitial News Producer Alex Derosier contributed to this report