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Someone Used the Domino's Pizza App to SWAT a California Home

Victims of these acts have been seriously injured and even killed by police officers who have responded to the phony emergency calls.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Sep 12 2019, 4:13pm

Photo: Getty Images

A Domino's Pizza employee called 911 early on Tuesday morning, after receiving a terrifying message through the restaurant's mobile ordering app.

The message suggested that a person was being held hostage in a residential neighborhood in Sherman Oaks, California, so the Domino's employee called the cops—just as anyone might do in that situation. According to NBC San Diego, a team of tactically armored officers surrounded the home, and at least one resident was put in handcuffs, but the alleged captive couldn't be found. Several people were led out of the house and interviewed, but none of them knew about any hostage situation or about the message that had been sent to Domino's.

The San Diego Police Department is still investigating the incident, and have suggested that it could've been a potentially dangerous "swatting" prank. (VICE has reached out to the SDPD for comment but has not yet received a response.)

"Swatting is the making of a hoax call to any emergency service to elicit an emergency response based on the false report of an ongoing critical incident," according to the FBI. "Incidents typically produce the deployment of SWAT units, bomb squads, and other police units, as well as the evacuations of schools, businesses and residences."

Victims of these acts have been seriously injured by officers who have responded to the calls, and in December 2017, Andrew Finch was shot and killed after a vindictive Call of Duty player mistakenly gave Finch's home address to the police, instead of the address of the other gamer he'd beefed with online.

But the Sherman Oaks situation could have another unintended consequence, if it means that it causes pizza shop employees to take reports of kidnappings or abuse less seriously. As strange as it sounds, two Domino's workers have previously been credited with saving the lives of two women who were being held hostage in two separate incidents.

In July, a woman left a note inside a Domino's Pizza in Anthony, Texas, writing that she'd been kidnapped by her husband and needed help. "I heard somebody come in. So, I came to the front to take the order," an unidentified Domino's worker told KFOX14.

"And then she started asking for a pen and paper. So, she’s writing down an address. She gives it to me and tells me to put it in my pocket, and she says, 'I need you to do me a favor and call 911 the moment I leave and tell them to be there within 10 to 15 minutes. No lights, no sirens, for them to just park by the pine trees and to enter though the back door."

Officers ultimately found her—bound, gagged, and beaten—inside a home in nearby Chamberino, New Mexico; her husband was taken into custody on charges of domestic violence and kidnapping.

And in September 2018, a Wisconsin woman who was being held hostage in her own home mouthed the words "Help me" and "Call the police" to a Domino's driver who was dropping off a pizza for her captor. The driver, Joey Grundl, did as he was asked.

"I had a delivery. It was a middle-aged couple. The woman clearly had a black eye," he told the 911 dispatcher. "She pointed to it, and I swear she mouthed 'help me.'"

Police officers arrived and arrested the woman's ex-boyfriend on five charges, including kidnapping, false imprisonment, and strangulation and suffocation. The woman said that she "truly believed [he] was going to kill her that night."

These two women may be alive today solely because Domino's workers took that note and those desperately whispered words seriously. And the employee who received that message early on Tuesday morning was doing what he could to help, too—a takeaway that's so much bigger than a pointless, thoughtless act.