LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Coast Guard Connects Sandy Hook Hoax to One in Texas

The Coast Guard is on the hunt for a possible serial hoaxer — one man who could be responsible for not just the false alarm off of Sandy Hook last week, but a similar hoax in Galveston, Texas in May. The Guard says the language used in the calls are similar and not typical of a distressed boater.

“In some cases, it seemed like they knew a lot about internal coast guard operations that you wouldn’t find from a typical boater,” said Captain Gregory P. Hitchen. “And in other cases, like with the term “souls,’ they used terms that a mariner doesn’t usually use.”

According to Special Agent Michael J. Donnelly, the call came in on a VHF frequency to the vessel traffic service which is not normal for the Coast Guard to receive distress calls on. “The technology we use is only on certain frequencies and I’m not going to discuss the frequencies here, but it points us in the right direction as to where the call is coming from,” said Donnelly.

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In the Sandy Hook case, the Coast Guard has narrowed the possible origin of the call to a rather large area from Staten Island up the Hudson River and inland.

The Coast Guard believes the caller used a VHF radio, possibly a handheld one that is common among boaters, to phone in the bogus emergency.

“As that information started coming in, we were able to determine this call is not coming from offshore,” said Chief Warrant Officer Brandon Brewer.

Now the Coast Guard says the Sandy Hook call and the Texas one sound alike. While the wording by the caller sounds official, investigators are not suggesting the hoaxer is a member or former member of the Coast Guard. And they don’t believe there is a terrorist link.

The five-hour, 734 square mile search and rescue mission off the New Jersey coast involved federal, state and local responders, and cost more than $300,000.

According to the Coast Guard, it’s not unusual for hoaxers to brag about what they did. And they’re hoping that’s what this guy did because unless someone turns him in or they get a solid lead, the Coast Guard says it will be hard to solve this case.

Reporting from Jersey City, Andrew Schmertz has the full story.