‘Purgatory is on the roll again’: Indictment details online group’s alleged ‘swatting’ crimes in Delaware, other states

One caller reported an active shooter inside a Delaware high school, where another said he was going to kill a teacher and students, the FBI charges.

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Newark police responded to Newark High after the alleged swatting calls in January. (City of Newark)

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One guy went by the moniker “Reaper.” Another used the name “Synthetics.” A third’s alias was “bit coin.”

The trio of young men lived in Virginia, Maryland and Ohio but formed the backbone of an online network that called itself “Purgatory.”

They used Instagram, Telegram, and other social media platforms to post messages of mayhem, with their rants attracting some 200 followers, including  one teenager in Massachusetts whose username was “clinicallyinsaneog.”

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The FBI charges that Purgatory’s purpose was to cause criminal chaos — at a Delaware high school, an Ohio casino, a New York airport, and elsewhere in the United States — by engaging in the federal crime of “swatting,” according to a recently unsealed indictment in Maryland.

Swatting is the act of calling law enforcement agencies and falsely reporting an emergency that’s either in progress or will occur. So-called swatters use computer-based phone lines to conceal their identities.

The aim is to get armed officers or even a police force’s special weapons and tactics unit (SWAT) to respond to the reported bomb threat, active shooter, or other violent crime. Far from a harmless crime, in a handful of cases, swatting has led to the death of the hoax target.

Court papers in a related case against the man who uses the online name “Reaper” say members of Purgatory have committed a variety of other crimes — “hacking, blackmail, extorting individuals for money, extorting females for explicit photos or videos of themselves, and extorting females to commit acts of self-harm.”

Alleged swatter said active shooter was inside Newark High

The alleged swatting incident in Delaware occurred about 1 p.m. on Jan. 4. The victims were the several hundred students and staff at Newark High School.

The call to Newark police was placed from 300 miles away in rural Moneta, Va., from a Google Voice number, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland.

The caller was 26-year-old Evan Strauss, who uses the names “Reaper” and “ex_nightmare” in Purgatory messages, the indictment said.

During the call, Strauss identified himself as Richard Wilson and said he was inside Newark High, where he “heard a man firing shots in the hallway,” the indictment said. The caller said he was hiding “inside a classroom with 10 other people.’’

At about the same time, authorities charge that Purgatory member 18-year-old Owen Jarboe used a TextNow number to call Newark police from Hagerstown, Md., 130 miles away.

Jarboe, who uses the names “Synthetics” and “yoboyqzippy” online, threatened to shoot an unidentified teacher and kill several students he did not name, the indictment said.

The alarming calls led Newark police to dispatch several officers to the school, located a few blocks from the University of Delaware campus. School resource and security officers already inside the school were also alerted.

Christina School District board member Doug Manley said school administrators immediately initiated a “secure hold” that involved restricting access in and out of the building. Authorities soon realized the call was a hoax and dismissed students on time, but after-school activities were postponed, and police remained there for hours, Manley said.

Meanwhile, Purgatory members reveled in the hoax’s success on a group chat, the indictment said.

According to the indictment, Jarboe messaged 18-year-old Brayden Grace, who used the online name “bit coin” and lives in Columbus, Ohio. “You saw what me and nightmare did to the school. Post it in telegram chat,’’ Jarboe wrote.

Later, an identified member posted links to news reports about the Delaware incident on Telegram. “Purgatory is on the roll again,’’ and added: “This was a school that was evacuated seems to [have] some issues with it being on lockdown and not functioning properly.”

Strauss later posted that Newark High was “still on lockdown,’’ leading one unidentified member to exclaim, “LMAO … What was the script LOL.”

The alleged attack against Newark High was one of several crimes the FBI says Purgatory members committed in December and January. The indictment did not say how the defendants selected their alleged targets.

FBI says swatters struck at airport, casino, trailer park, fire station

According to the indictment against Strauss, Jarboe and Grace, the trio conspired on these other swatting acts:

  • Jarboe called police in Albany, N.Y., and said he was going to Albany International Airport to “shoot everybody up” and that his “friend” was going to set off bombs at the airport.
  • After Grace posted the address of the Hollywood Casino in Columbus and the non-emergency number for Columbus police, one unidentified and unindicted co-conspirator called the city cops and threatened to blow up the casino unless someone delivered $100,000 there.
  • Jarboe called a sheriff’s office in Alabama, reporting that he had shot his son, planned to burn down a mobile home, and would kill any cop who responded to the trailer park.
  • Jarboe called a fire station in Georgia, claimed he shot his aunt and two minors, and was considering shooting a third juvenile.

Like in the Delaware incident, all of those alleged crimes generated a significant response from local law enforcement agencies.

Strauss, Jarboe and Grace face charges of cyberstalking, interstate threatening communications, threats to damage or destroy by means of fire and explosives, and conspiracy. All three are currently in federal custody and face lengthy prison sentences if convicted. Prosecutors said the investigation is ongoing.

Strauss is also facing federal charges in Virginia for production and possession of child pornography in Virginia for allegedly convincing a 17-year-old girl in Wyoming to engage in sexual acts on video in January.

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An FBI agent said in an arrest warrant that Strauss had threatened to “kill her, her family, and her cat’’ if she did not send him nude photos. The warrant also said Strauss got the girl to commit an act of self-harm by threatening to “swat” her home.

‘Those cops are probably thinking they’re going to kill somebody’

Christina board member Manley noted that police and school administrators quickly determined the threat was a scam but that the alleged swatters potentially put kids and adults in peril, especially in an era where the threat of mass shootings in school is real.

“The way that this works, the reason it works, is because they know that with a threat of somebody already in the school with a weapon, they will bring police armed with their weapons into the school,’’ Manley said.

Doug Manley
Christina school board member Doug Manley said the Newark High incident potentially put kids and adults in peril. (Courtesy of Doug Manley)

“You’re going to introduce five, 10, 20 cops, and claim that there’s an active shooter, and there’s enough calls coming in to make it seem like this is happening. Those cops are going to be coming in thinking, this is an active shooter situation. We need to be on our guard and they’re probably thinking they’re going to kill somebody.”

Newark police Lt. Andrew Rubin said the force’s SWAT team didn’t respond to the January incident but that if such a move were necessary, that would have entailed calling officers in from home or other units.

“Anytime we’re going into the school environment, with the number of people in that small location, we’re immediately thinking what resources we are going to need to handle this threat.”

Rubin stressed, however, that officers have only one goal in such situations — protecting the public.

“When these calls come in, of course we don’t know whether they’re real or not. So until we’ve vetted the call and vetted the situation, we’re sending the resources that we think might be needed based on what the caller is telling us.”

“The school has to take into account the safety of the students, the safety of the staff, whether we’re evacuating, whether we’re locking down. So these incidents are extremely disruptive.”

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