Swatting incident could cost Stephen Landes 10 years
A Roswell, New Mexico man has pleaded guilt to making bomb threats to Georgetown Elementary School and the Georgetown Walmart.
On May 9, 2018, 29-year-old Stephen S. Landes allegedly made the bomb threats in a swatting incident. "Swatting" refers to making false emergency calls in order to elicit a police response (e.g., a SWAT team) and to harass another individual.
According to court documents and statements made in open court, on May 9, 2018, at approximately 1:43 p.m., Landes called the Walmart in Georgetown asked to speak with a manager, impersonating a Georgetown man. He said he had a bomb and a child held hostage in the bathroom, demanded $20,000 and threatened to blow-up the Walmart if he did not receive the money.
Law enforcement, including the Georgetown Police Department, Delaware State Police and Delaware Natural Resources Police responded and evacuated the store. K9 units searched the Walmart but did not find any bomb.
A few minutes later, at approximately 1:56 p.m., Landes called Georgetown Elementary School. Landes, again claiming to be a Georgetown man, and told the person who answered the phone that he had two children buried in his basement and that there was a bomb in the school. School administrators locked down the school and called 911.
Law enforcement again responded, and K9 units again found no bombs.
According to The News Journal, the man Landes impersonated was Rodney Alan Phipps, of Georgetown. The two began feuding after speaking on a phone party line. Phipps is also facing swatting allegations, for separate incidences. He was indicted in June 2019 for false reports in five states that included murder, shootings, arson and a hostage situation.
“Bomb threats and swatting calls, especially to schools and highly trafficked retail stores, are designed to cause intense fear. They also necessitate an immediate response from law enforcement, diverting the limited resources of local law enforcement and emergency service agencies away from true emergencies where these agencies are critical to the health and safety of our communities," said David C. Weiss, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware. "When these violent threats are directed towards an elementary school, they have a particularly lasting psychological impact on members of our community. My office will vigorously prosecute those who engage in bomb threats, swatting calls and other similar terroristic activity.”
“Stephen Landes’ actions exposed our children and community to fear and a real potential for injury. I am proud of the professional response of our police officers and the exceptional investigation and prosecution by our state and federal partners," said Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes.
Landes' sentencing is scheduled for November 27, 2019. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.