MATTOON, Ill. (WCIA) — Police are investigating after someone called 911 and threatened to kill churchgoers in what turned out to be a hoax.
Police say an anonymous caller, using a “spoofed” phone number, called MPD dispatch March 6th and expressed his intent to commit an act of mass violence at Maranatha Baptist Church on Dewitt Avenue. Evening services were taking place at the church during the time of call, and children were learning down the hall.
The threat turned out to be a hoax. However, it prompted an armed response and temporary road closures near the church.
“Near the end of the service, my son, who was standing in the back, motioned to me that there was a problem,” Minister Dan Haifley said. “I went out there and police pushed me into my office. I didn’t even know they were on the property.”
Mattoon Police Chief Jason Taylor said he thinks an argument at a Coles County board meeting earlier that week led to the call.
“This was the first church service after the minister spoke openly in support of prayer at a county board meeting,” Taylor explained.
The Coles County Board ultimately decided to leave in a moment of prayer, while also adding a moment of silence.
Taylor said he suspects some kind of activist placed the 911 call.
“Most people today refer to an assault weapon as an AR-15 assault rifle,” Taylor said. “That’s been common in the media for years. But this person referred to an M-16, a weapon that was common to the Vietnam generation, the Vietnam era.”
Mattoon police have served search warrants to six phone companies in the United States, Canada and now Hong Kong. The FBI is helping police with the warrant overseas.
Maranatha Baptist Church has also added security cameras to the outside of the building.
A cash reward of $1,000.00 or more is being offered for information regarding the hoax call.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Mattoon police at 235-5451, private message Mattoon police via Facebook, or call Coles County Crimestoppers at 1-866-345-8488. Anyone providing information may remain anonymous.