Hoax on Vermont National Guard Families Investigated by Attorney General

The late-night phone calls were wrenching for the Vermont families of soldiers serving in Afghanistan -- a stranger expressing sympathy for a son or daughter who had been injured or killed in Afghanistan.

But the tormenting calls were ghoulish hoaxes and state attorney general is looking for whoever is behind them.

"My first thought was, 'How sick,'" Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said.

Sorrell said he has been in contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office since making such hoax calls during a time of war is a federal felony.

National Guard Lt. Col. Lloyd Goodrow questioned why anyone would pull such a cruel prank on military families already enduring the agony of having a soldier overseas.

"All our families, it's a roller coaster ride," Goodrow said. "Somebody does something like this, it just makes it worse."

Sorrell said he's also researching what kind of state laws may have been violated, but so far it looks like the most they could charge the caller with would be a misdemeanor for threatening or harrassment.

"The fact that they have the contact information for these families indicates to me someone who is close enough to the situation to have some personal information," he said. "Predict at your peril, but my guess is it's someone with a local connection."

The calls came in last week, all from either a woman or "someone trying to sound like a woman," Goodrow said. Three prank calls have been officially confirmed, but Goodrow said he's heard there were as many as nine.

"One time is one time too many and it has to stop," he said.

"The calls were made, starting about 10 o' clock in the night," he said. "It was very compassioned, 'Hey sorry to hear your husband was wounded in Afghanistan. Is there something I can do to help?"

When the family member questions the caller, he or she hangs up.

In one case, Goodrow said, a mother got a call that her daughter, a soldier serving in Afghanistan, had been killed.

"She was very upset," he said. "She called us."

The caller IDs registered either a blocked number or a series of zeros, indicating they were made from an Internet connection. The National Guard is releasing little information about the families to protect their identities, but said they all lived in a "common region" of Vermont.

"If you think it's funny, it's not," Goodrow said, speaking directly to the person making the calls. "If you've always wondered what a domestic terrorist looks like, look in the mirror."

Military Hoax Calls: Politically Motivated or Cruel Prank?

Sorrell said he has a hard time believing anyone would make such cruel phone calls just for kicks and wonders if the calls aren't fueled by some kind of political, religious or anti-war sentiment.

"Where would the anger come from that would lead someone … to maybe be doing this for furthering some cause?" he asked.

The Vermont National Guard has about 1,500 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan with the 86th infantry brigade combat team, all stationed in Kabul or along the Pakistani border.

Goodrow said families are never notified of a death by phone. And if a soldier is wounded, every effort is made for the soldier to call home if he or she is injured, otherwise the call is made by someone serving with that soldier.

Sorrell said his office has been working with the National Guard to reach out to the families who have been called in hopes they will participate in the investigation.

This is not the first time the National Guard has dealt with such phone calls. Goodrow said four or five families got similar calls from a man 20 years ago during Desert Storm.

The calls stopped after the hoaxes were publicized, he said, and the caller was never identified.

The Vermont National Guard has lost 12 soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sorrell asked that any Vermont families who get a hoax phone call to immediately call the National Guard, his office or the state police.