Teen Allegedly Hacked Orange County 911 System

Hack caused SWAT team to roll on false call


ORANGE COUNTY -- A SWAT team rollout to a Lake Forest home last March on a report of a fatal shooting and threats of more carnage stemmed from the alleged actions of an out-of-state hacker who tapped into the 911 system, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Randall Ellis, 19, of Mulkiteo in Snohomish County, Wash., was arrested last Friday on a host of charges and waived extradition Monday, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

He is expected to be arraigned Monday in Orange County Superior Court. Deputy District Attorney David Demurjian said he will ask for bail of at least $500,000 to ensure the defendant remains in the area to stand trial.

Ellis was 18 years old when he allegedly hacked into Orange County's 911 system from his home and randomly picked the names of a Lake Forest couple who were asleep with their two toddlers at the time, said Farrah Emami of the D.A.'s office.

Ellis allegedly placed a prank call to confirm their names -which were withheld by prosecutors- and then used his computer to hack into the 911 system. The caller claimed to be inside the home and told dispatchers that he had shot and killed someone, and threatened to shoot additional people, Emami said.

A SWAT team immediately was dispatched and surrounded the house, Emami said.

The husband, referred to in court papers as John Doe, heard rustling in bushes in the yard and believed a prowler was about. He took a knife from the kitchen and went into the backyard, where he found members of the SWAT team pointing assault rifles at him, Emami said.

Both he and his wife were handcuffed and held briefly, until it was determined that the report was bogus, Emami said.

Using forensic computer technology, investigators from the district attorney's High Tech Crimes Unit and sheriff's investigators traced the origin of the report, which "was difficult to pinpoint," Emami said.

Ellis is suspected of instigating similar 911 emergency responses in the states of Arizona, Washington and Pennsylvania, she said.

Demurjian said that to his knowledge, Ellis was not prosecuted on those cases due to "a combination of factors," such as slim investigative leads and multiple jurisdictions, although there recently was a similar case brought by federal prosecutors in Texas.

"There are people who have made this a hobby," Demurjian said.

Asked if Ellis was surprised to be caught, the prosecutor said he guessed not but speculated that the suspect probably was surprised at the severity of the charges, which could earn him a prison sentence of up to 18 years if he's convicted.

Authorities locally took the prank "very seriously" because "it could easily have wound up to be a tragedy," the prosecutor said.

The "wonders of technology" that allow someone to pull off such a crime can also be a suspect's downfall because "evidence is left on all tracks and systems that are used," he said.

The defendant faces felony charges of computer access and fraud, two counts each of false imprisonment by violence and assault with an assault weapon by proxy and a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report.

Although Ellis did not possess the weapons himself, he was directly responsible for their use, prosecutors allege.

Ellis, who is currently being held without bail, is expected to be brought to Orange County before Monday.

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