BIDDEFORD — Clifford Street was quiet Tuesday afternoon, with few cars dotting the steep, winding road that connects Water and Pool streets in Biddeford. But just two days earlier, the neighborhood was teeming with police officers as they responded to the report of a hostage situation in an apartment at 41 Clifford St.

The report, which police determined to be a hoax after about two hours, was the latest in a string of so-called “swatting” incidents in New England. Swatting is the act of reporting a fictitious crime in order to elicit a large-scale police response ”“ specifically, the response of a SWAT team.

Now, multiple law enforcement agencies are working together in an attempt to track down the person responsible for making the call over the weekend.  

“We’re sharing information with other agencies,” Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre said Tuesday, without naming any of the other agencies involved. “We’re trying to connect the dots.”

One point Beaupre stressed is that police do not believe the call reflects a local problem.

“I cannot go into the nitty-gritty of it, but suffice it to say this is an issue that we suspect had its origins in California,” he said. “Not that the phone call was from California, but this is not necessarily a local problem. … It was just coincidental that this occurred in Biddeford as opposed to anywhere else.”

The incident began at about 11 a.m. on Sunday, after an unknown person called the Biddeford Police Department’s administrative line and said he had just killed his parents and was now holding his girlfriend hostage in the Clifford Street apartment, Beaupre said. The caller then hung up, he said, before calling the line again, this time warning police that he was also in possession of C-4 explosives.

The report prompted police to rapidly close off Water Street as officers from both Biddeford and Saco surrounded the apartment building, some with their guns drawn. But after contacting the man who lives in the apartment where the incident was reportedly occurring, Beaupre said police determined by about 1 p.m. that the report was false and the man, whom he described as a clean-cut 22-year-old who recently moved to Biddeford from Massachusetts, had done nothing wrong.

“We were fortunate,” he said of nobody getting hurt during the incident and the fact that a SWAT team was never called to the scene. “It just tied up several people for less than a couple of hours.”

Last week, however, a swatting incident in Standish triggered a police response on a much larger scale, said Beaupre.

“It created a full response from a SWAT unit in Cumberland County,” he said. “They were into it a lot deeper than we got into it.”

One day after that incident, a similar one occurred in Rochester, New Hampshire. When asked if the three incidents could be related, Beaupre said, “We haven’t been able to determine that but we’re looking at the possibility.”

According to information posted on its website, the FBI was first warned about swatting in 2008, and since then, the agency has arrested numerous individuals on federal charges for swatting, some of whom are currently in prison.

Not only does swatting put lives at risk, the website states, but it is also a waste of money and resources. In recent years, many celebrities have been victims of swatting, including Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus and Tom Cruise, according to a 2013 CNNMoney article.

If caught, Beaupre said the perpetrator could face a multitude of charges, such as filing a false police report and creating a catastrophe.

“Calling in a bomb threat at a school that causes an evacuation is a felony, for example, and it would be similar charges,” he said.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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