Tuesday 24 October 2017

Teen who made 11 hoax bomb calls to schools, airports and agencies in US after playing Call of Duty jailed

Call of Duty
Call of Duty

Eleanor Barlow

A teenager who has been locked up for making hoax bomb calls which caused mass panic in America began the threats after playing video game Call of Duty, a court has heard.

Gregory Paul Sales, now 17, was sentenced to 12 months in a young offenders' institution after he admitted threatening to "slaughter" the family of an FBI agent in a series of phone calls as well as making 11 hoax bomb threats to schools, universities, airports and news organisations in America.

The teenager, who was just 15 when the offences started, used the name Ransom, with account names including Ransom the Terrorist and Ransom the Thug, to carry out the chilling threats.

Sales, from Bidston, Wirral, was told he was "very lucky" to be young enough to avoid extradition to America.

Wirral Youth Court heard the offences started on September 4 2014, when he rang the Ottowa County Sheriff and said he was on the way to Coopersville High School, US, with a bomb and was in possession of an Uzi.

Hannah Griffiths, prosecuting, said 19 police patrols were sent to the school and the 2,500 students were locked down for an hour.

On December 22 2014, he rang the home of FBI agent Christian Zajac and left a message on the voicemail which was heard by the agent's wife and two 12-year-old children.

Judge Michael Abelson said: "Christian Zajac was alerted to the call by the sound of his wife and children screaming."

In the calls, which were listened in to by people Sales had met online, he demanded $20,000 from the agent and said if the demands weren't met he would kill his wife and children

He also claimed a bomb would be brought to the house by a pizza delivery driver, before ordering pizzas to be delivered to the house.

The court heard in a later phone call he lowered his demand to $10,000 and said if it was not met "your family dies, I come to your house and slaughter everybody".

John Weate, defending, said: "He got into this through playing a game called Call of Duty, which is a game which you can play online and which has an army theme to it, and he gets talking to people in other countries or this country."

Between September 2014 and May 2015 Sales also made fake bomb threats to Hudsonville High School, Caledonia Community High School, Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, the Gerald Ford, Kalamazoo and Shuttleworth international airports and two news stations - Wood TV Studio and WZZM 13.

The court heard he tweeted WZZM 13 stating there was a bomb in the building after the station decided not to air an interview with him about the spate of bomb hoaxes in the area.

Judge Michael Abelson said: "It is almost as if fantasy and reality blended into each other."

Mr Weate said when Sales was played a recording of the threats he made to FBI Agent Zajac in a police interview he "covered his ears in shame and disgust" as if he was trying to block it out.

Sentencing the teenager, Judge Abelson said: "This was coordinated criminal activity, orchestrated on a large scale."

He added: "This is no game. You must surely have appreciated, as an intelligent young man at the time, the horror you were causing to this family and the fear you were instilling in them."

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