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Update: Babysitter, two accomplices arrested after fake home-invasion robbery

Updated on Thursday morning.

FERNDALE — A teenage babysitter and two young men were arrested Wednesday, June 18, when the babysitter made up a story about two armed, black men breaking into an apartment east of Ferndale to throw deputies off the track of the real thieves, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office.

The woman had been watching three kids aged 1 to 4 at the apartment in the 5400 block of Northwest Drive when she reported two black men in the 20s or 30s — one with a gun, one with a knife — had barged in through a back door around 4:20 p.m. and told her she should leave if she didn't want to get hurt. None of the children were hurt as they fled from the apartment with her.

A SWAT team, a U.S. border helicopter and dozens of law enforcement personnel — many of them on-call, working overtime — responded to the scene looking for two armed men with backpacks. A manhunt blocked off Northwest Drive. But the story started to crack when detectives interviewed the children: The robbers were white, they said.

In the meantime the babysitter pointed out a young black man who lives in the neighborhood as a possible suspect. SWAT ordered him out of his apartment. He cooperated but wasn't free to go until later in the evening.

Eventually, the woman admitted she'd made up the story to cover for how she'd let two young, white men into the apartment to steal electronics, said Sheriff Bill Elfo. They got away with a gaming system and two backpacks full of stolen goods. Those were later recovered.

The alleged accomplices, Ruben Jerome Benjamin, 18, and a 16-year-old boy, were arrested on charges of second-degree robbery, second-degree burglary, second-degree theft. Detectives were trying to determine if the young men had any weapons when they broke into the apartment full of children.

The babysitter, whose name wasn't released because she's a minor, faces charges of conspiring to commit robbery, conspiring to commit burglary and second-degree perjury for the false report. The sheriff hopes a judge will require her to pay restitution for the immense cost of the law enforcement response.

"It certainly limits our abilities to respond to other, real emergencies," Elfo said. "And at the same time our guys are racing to the scene, putting themselves and others in danger."

Updated on Wednesday evening.

FERNDALE — Detectives no longer believe two armed men forced a babysitter and three children to flee from an apartment Wednesday, June 18, east of Ferndale.

We're trying to confirm how and why a young woman misreported the incident to the sheriff's office. But there's no longer believed to be a threat to the general public, said Sgt. Kevin Mede.

The inaccurate report — of a home-invasion committed in the late Wednesday afternoon by two armed black men wearing backpacks — drew dozens of law enforcement personnel to the 5400 block of Northwest Drive for hours.

A detective continued to interview the young woman outside a nearby fire hall as of 8 p.m.

Follow @bhamcrime, a Bellingham Herald feed, for live updates via Twitter.

Original story below.

FERNDALE — A report of two armed robbers breaking into an occupied apartment on Northwest Drive set off a manhunt that lasted into the evening hours Wednesday, June 18.

A babysitter called 911 around 4:20 p.m. from the 5400 block of Northwest — about three miles north of Bellingham city limits — saying two men had burst in through a back door and told her if she didn't want to get hurt, she should leave, said Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo.

Both men wore backpacks, and the woman thought she saw a gun handle sticking out of one pack. One man, she told deputies, had what looked like a knife.

She ran outside with the three young children she'd been babysitting. No one was harmed.

A U.S. border helicopter joined in the search for two black men: one short and skinny man, one tall and muscular man. No description was available of their clothes or last direction of travel. A SWAT team had been in training and responded to the scene.

The two suspects remained at large past 6 p.m.

Follow @bhamcrime, a Bellingham Herald feed, for live updates via Twitter.