TEMPE, Ariz. — Quick-acting online gamers from across the country and overseas helped Tempe, Ariz., police stop a home invasion before anyone got hurt Monday morning, Tempe police said.
Online gamers playing Defense of the Ancients 2alerted a Chandler, Ariz., man who then called police about the robbery after the gamers witnessed two armed men break into a woman's apartment while she played an online game at about 5:10 a.m. Mountain Time on Monday, said Lt. Mike Pooley, a Tempe police spokesman.
Police were able to arrest one man, 27-year-old Edgardo Martinez, who was still in the apartment when they arrived. Police said Martinez attempted to flee but was caught.
A gamer in Europe first contacted a friend in the Tempe area who called police, Pooley said. Pooley said that because the players talked frequently online, other gamers were able to easily locate the victim.
In the 911 call, the man from Chandler said he received an online message about 10 minutes after the break-in from someone who claimed to have witnessed the crime.
"I wasn't actually there," the caller told the emergency operator. "I have a friend that streams video games online, through a webcam, and I had a bunch of people tell me, that personally know him, that somebody came in with a gun and looked like they were robbing (his girlfriend)."
The caller said the people messaged him online after they saw a man come into the woman's apartment, empty her drawers and disconnect her webcam.
Pooley said there was a significant time delay between the original international call and contact with police, but neither the female victim who was playing the game nor the male victim who also was in the apartment was hurt.
Tito Guandique, a student at the University of Maryland, said he witnessed the crime. Guandique said some of his friends thought that it was a prank, because sometimes they play jokes on each other online.
Guandique said that the communication technology used in the game has a 20-second delay, so gamers feared that by the time they knew that something had happened, it might be too late.
"This goes to show that there is a strong bond between the streamers, subscribers and viewers," Guandique said. "We are all a gaming family."
He said he and the other players were thankful someone acted quickly and called the police.
"It's amazing how someone so far away can have an impact on someone's life who just so happens to be thousands of miles away," Guandique said. "Technology has come a long way. It saves lives."
Pooley said that cases where people remotely witness a robbery in real time are rare but that this time it helped police track down the victims and prevent further harm.
Multiple firearms were stolen from the apartment, he said. Police believe that the robbers intended to take one of the victims to a bank once it opened to take money from their accounts, he said.
The search for the second suspect continued Monday after SWAT teams entered a vacant apartment where they believed him to be. They did not find him or the stolen firearms, Pooley said.
Contributing: Catherine Bieri, The Arizona Republic