Prank Calls That Shut Down U.S. Schools Traced to Korea

An anonymous phone call that led to the lockdown of nine schools in the U.S. state of New Jersey has apparently been traced to Korea.

The call was received by the police communications center in New Jersey at 9:45 a.m. on March 26 last year from a man threatening to kill students at Hackettstown High School in the garden state with an AK 47 assault rifle. The call prompted police to order lockdowns at Hackettstown High School and eight other schools nearby.

Local media reported that a man armed with a gun was hiding in the woods behind Hackettstown High School, and frightened parents rushed to the school to pick their children up. Armed police searched the entire town as helicopters hovered overhead, but no armed assailant surfaced. Now the threatening phone call has been traced to Korea.

Korean police on Monday said they arrested a 20-year-old man on charges of obstruction of official duties for making four threatening or prank calls to 911 in Warren County, New Jersey, causing a SWAT team to be mobilized.

"U.S. police must have thought he was a genuine terrorist, since he was able to accurately describe the surrounding buildings of his targets, even though he spoke poor English," a Korean police spokesman said.

Police said the man had been hoping to become a pro golfer but ended up working part time in a department store after graduating from high school. He befriended a high school girl in the U.S. via Facebook in order to learn English and started chatting with her.

The man told police he found out about Hackettstown High School and the buildings and layout of the surrounding area by chatting with the girl. But he became angry when she blocked him on Facebook.

A police investigator briefs reporters on a man suspected of making threatening prank calls to the U.S., at a police station in Seoul on Monday. /Newsis A police investigator briefs reporters on a man suspected of making threatening prank calls to the U.S., at a police station in Seoul on Monday. /Newsis

The man started making prank calls after he learned about a smartphone app that offers free international phone calls and makes the caller's number appear to originate from the U.S. He even opened a chat room on the Internet and relayed his actions as up to 50 people watched.

Police believe the man made hundreds of prank calls to the U.S. from December 2011 to July last year. On April 3 last year, he called New York police and said he had just killed his 10-year-old son and wanted to kill the officer who took the call as well as his family, according to police.

New York police traced a prank call to Korea and notified police here of their discovery. Police in Korea investigated mobile phone calls made to the U.S. as well as Internet records dating back a year and were able to capture the man.

U.S. police sent Korean police a US$81,058 bill to pay for helicopters and police vehicles that were mobilized in response to the man's calls.

The suspect can be prosecuted in Korea since he committed the crime here. He started his mandatory military service in October last year and will stand trial in a military court.

"Terrorism charges are a major crime in the U.S., with which Korea has an extradition treaty, so police there can demand that he be handed over," said a Justice Ministry official. "But if he is sentenced here, U.S. demands to extradite him would probably be rejected since it would constitute double jeopardy."

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 02, 2013 11:00 KST