A Roswell man has pleaded guilty to making interstate bomb threats against a Walmart and an elementary school in Georgetown, Delaware.
Stephen Scott Landes, 29, of Roswell, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware Monday to one count of threatening and conveying false information concerning the use of an explosive, according to court documents.
Landes is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 27 in federal court and could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, according to a press release issued Monday by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware.
According to the release, both threats were called in by Landes, who was “swatting” a Georgetown resident who he had been in a longtime feud with.
“Swatting” is when someone reports a false emergency that results in an armed police response meant to harass an individual believed to be at the location of the purported emergency.
On May 9, 2018, Landes called a Walmart in Georgetown at 1:43 p.m. from his Roswell residence, according to court documents. He asked to speak to the manager of the store and then identified himself as a certain Georgetown resident, who is identified in court documents as “victim 1.”
Landes then falsely claimed he was in a restroom in the store with a bomb and a child hostage. He then threatened to blow the store up if $20,000 was not left outside the restroom. He said the manager had five minutes to evacuate the store.
At 1:56 p.m. that same day, Landes made a call to Georgetown Elementary School, where he falsely claimed he had two children buried alive in the basement and that there were bombs planted both in the school and in the basement, according to court documents.
The person who had picked up the phone attempted to talk to Landes and diffuse the situation, but Landes responded by swearing at the individual. The school was then placed on lockdown and the police were called.
No bombs were found at either of the locations.
Court documents state Landes and “victim 1,” who resided in Georgetown, met each other in about 2013 while communicating “on a party line.” Eventually the relationship between the two became hostile with Landes and “victim 1” insulting, harassing and threatening each others’ family and friends.
Landes was caught after the phone number he called from in making the threat to the school matched that of his wife, and after “victim 1” reported to police that friends had told him Landes had been bragging — in online conversations — about having made the threats.
When questioned in July 2018 by investigators, Landes initially denied calling in the threats. He admitted though that he had called in fake bomb threats when he was younger but had stopped doing so when he turned 18.
In the press release, David C. Weiss, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware, whose office prosecuted the case, said “swatting” is a serious crime.
“Bomb threats and swatting calls, especially to schools and highly trafficked retail stores, are designed to cause intense fear. They also necessitate an immediate response from law enforcement, diverting the limited resources of local law enforcement and emergency service agencies away from true emergencies where these agencies are critical to the health and safety of our communities. When these threats are directed toward an elementary school, they have a particularly lasting psychological impact on members of our community,” Weiss said.
He added that his office will vigorously prosecute those who engage in bomb threats, swatting calls and what Weiss described in the release as “other similar terroristic activity.”
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.