MEDINA, Ohio — The case stretches from Los Angeles, California to Medina, Ohio. And, places in between.
The target: Melina Abdullah.
A professor, an activist, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, living in Los Angeles.
And a repeat victim of swatting.
Swatting is making a prank call to police, with the goal of getting a large police presence and SWAT team to show up and surprise unsuspecting victims at an address. It can be dangerous — and in some cases, has turned deadly.
“I guess the first time was August of 2020,” Abdulllah said. “I look out the window and there are dozens and dozens, maybe 40 officers in full gear, with assault rifles. And when I look out the window, two of them run to the window and point their assault rifles at me.”
As a mother of young children, Abdullah said she was terrified. Then, about a year later, she was swatted again. Six days after that — Abdullah was swatted for the third time, LAPD officers surrounding her home once again.
“They say the first and the third swatting was a result of ‘white teens motivated by racial hatred,’” Abdullah said, adding air quotes.
When asked why the air quotes, Abdullah replied, ‘Well a lot of reasons but one, I believe police capitalized on it and have been wanting to target me.”
She currently has a lawsuit against the city of L.A. and LAPD over their response to the swatting incidents.
But investigators said the suspects are three teenagers — from Yonkers, New York, a U.S. citizen living in the country of Cyprus, and a 15-year-old from right here in Medina, Ohio.
We are not identifying him, since he is a minor, and hasn’t been charged with anything in this case just yet.
Police said the Medina teen has provided the means for some of the swatters to disguise their identity through his tech abilities.
“For this case, he knew what was going on, but he did not actually make the swatting calls is what we believe at this time,” said Detective Robert Locher with the Medina County Sheriff’s office.
But swatting calls are nothing new to law enforcement — the FBI has investigations dating back to 2008. Many times, linked to the video gaming community.
“Sometimes it’s a revenge thing,” said Vicki Anderson, special agent with the Cleveland Division of FBI.
“They do it just for kicks,” said Locher, adding a message to parents. “Just pay attention to your children, what they’re doing on the internet. Don’t let them sit in their bedrooms all day and night.”
Because as it's turning out, more often than not, the culprits in these swatting incidents are getting caught.
Like in the case of Bay Village. Nearly a year after a swatting call led to Bay Village High School being evacuated in January 2021 — two boys, one from Tuscarawas county and one from Miami, Florida were charged with inducing panic in December.
“It might take a little longer, but it will definitely be tracked down — it’s just a matter of time,” Anderson said.
In the case of the Medina teen, investigators from LAPD, FBI, Secret Service, and Medina County worked to track him down.
His father told News 5 that his son has made mistakes in the past, but not this time.
In a statement, he said his son was “helping and not hurting this investigation, and did nothing nefarious.”
“This juvenile, he’s a genius,” Locher said. “I mean, he can put his knowledge to great use when he grows up, but it’s not going to happen if he’s going to spend the rest of his life in lockup
Investigators believe the group of the three teens is involved with 30 other bomb threats and swatting calls across the United States, dating back to July 2020.
The case is currently with the LAPD District Attorney’s office to determine if charges will be filed.