Multiple false 911 calls investigated

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

BERRYVILLE ---- A female student at the Berryville school is believed to be responsible for a series of prank phone calls to 911, reporting fires, beatings and other false emergencies.

Sgt. Randy Haven, with the Berryville Police Department said the case is being actively investigated and the suspect, or suspects, will be charged with filing a false report.

"We will pursue this to the fullest extent of the law," he said. "This is pretty serious, not a prank."

Dispatcher Bonnie Minton, who has taken numerous calls from the suspect, said it is believed that the girl is using a deactivated cell phone because it can't be connected to a user.

"Some women's shelters are handing out deactivated cell phones because they can at least call 911 even though they don't have service," she explained.

"We can determine whatever tower is being used and it's always the same cell number but we not able to connect it to a user," she said.

Candy Bawcom, who has been involved in the establishment of a new 911 center, said pre-paid trac phones can also deter dispatchers because they can't be traced to a user either.

"They won't give you a phone number but you can pinpoint the location," she explained.

Minton said the prank calls to 911 have been made by a girl.

"It's always a girl," she said. "On one call, I could hear other kids in the background."

She said the caller has reported a house on fire with her mother inside and being beat up.

"On Thursday, she said she was at Burger King and her dad was hitting her mother," Minton recalled. "Sometimes we get six calls from her in one day."

Minton says the suspect always calls either before or after school hours.

Police have been aided in their investigation by some outside sources, including a student who called 911 to say he knew who was making the prank calls, and by technology that is sitting idle upstairs in the courthouse.

Milynda Hale, a mapping specialist familiar with the new 911 equipment in the county's unused central dispatch office, said she was aware of the prank calls and picked up a call sheet from Dispatcher Minton containing the coordinates of a series of calls made one afternoon.

After punching the information into a computer that displayed a map, "it was showing x's exactly where she was calling from," Hale said. "The x's were moving down a road, and the times and locations corresponded with a school bus route."

The suspect, or suspects, if others are involved, said Sgt. Haven, will be taken before juvenile authorities to face the consequences. "This is serious," he reiterated.

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