A 26-year-old man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to starting a fatal “swatting” hoax that led police to kill an innocent man in Wichita, Kansas.
“I hope that this prosecution and lengthy sentence sends a strong message that will put an end to the juvenile and reckless practice of ‘swatting’ within the gaming community, as well as in any other context,” US Attorney Stephen McAllister said Friday.
“Swatting,” he added, “is just a terrible idea.”
A spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office in Kansas said that, to his knowledge, the incident was the first fatal swatting incident in the United States.
Tyler Barriss plead guilty to 51 charges. Three of those counts were related to the incident in Wichita, 46 counts were for similar charges in California, and two counts were for issues in Washington, DC.
Gamers Casey Viner and Shane Gaskill were indicted alongside Barriss on related charges for their involvement in the fatal incident in Wichita. Viner and Gaskill are awaiting trial.
The incident began as a dispute between Viner and Gaskill while they were playing the first-person shooter game Call of Duty: WWII. Viner was angry with Gaskill, so he asked Barriss to swat Gaskill in retaliation, according to the indictment.
Barriss attempted to confirm Gaskill’s address and the two chatted over Twitter DMs, with Gaskill taunting Barriss and daring him to go through with it.
“Please try some shit,” Gaskill wrote.
“None of you gaymers [sic] scare me I gave you everything you need to try something so hurry TF up,” he added.
Barriss made a series of false calls to Wichita police. He claimed that he was a man named Brian or Ryan and that he lived in Wichita. He told police that he had shot his father after his father was beating his mother, and that his mother and brother were subsequently locked in a closet.
Barriss gave police an address he believed to be Gaskill’s home — but Gaskill fooled him and the address was incorrect. The calls resulted in police arriving at the home of an unrelated man whom officers shot and killed after the man walked onto his porch.
The man was identified as Andrew Finch, 28, by the Wichita Eagle.
“I heard my son scream, I got up and then I heard a shot,” his mother, Lisa Finch, told the paper.
As the incident unfolded, the indictment said that Barriss and Gaskill continued to chat online.
“This is comedy,” Gaskill wrote.
But, as it became clear that something had gone wrong, the discussion turned dire and the two discussed deleting evidence of the discussion.
“I was involved in someone’s death,” wrote Viner in separate message.
Lisa Finch told the Wichita Eagle that she felt police were to blame for her son’s death, saying, “That cop murdered my son over a false report.”
Police have placed the blame on Barriss, Viner, and Gaskill.
“Sending police and emergency responders rushing to anyone’s home based on utterly false information as some kind of joke shows an incredible disregard for the safety of other people,” McAllister, the prosecutor, said. “I also hope that today’s result helps bring some peace to the Finch family and some closure to the Wichita community.”
For his part, Barriss apologized in court.
“If I could take it back, I would, but there is nothing I can do,” he told the court, according to the AP. “I am so sorry for that.”
Barriss’s attorney declined to comment.