A 60-year-old Tennessee man died after he was “swatted” by people who wanted him to give up his Twitter handle.
The incident happened in April 2020 after the swatter called police to report a fake murder at Mark Herring’s Sumner County home. Law enforcement swarmed Herring’s property with their guns drawn, his family said Thursday.
Herring, who was shocked and confused, had a massive heart attack and died.
“I believe he was scared to death,” his daughter Corinna Herring Fitch said in a phone interview. “I believe from the adrenaline and the guns in his face … a heart attack happened.”
One of the swatters involved, Shane Sonderman, was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison. Authorities said Sonderman was a minor at the time of Herring’s death but turned 18 after his arrest. He was charged as an adult with wire fraud/conspiracy, interstate communication of threats, false information and hoaxes, and conspiracy.
In March, he agreed to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge in exchange for the other charges being dropped.
His co-conspirator is a minor from the United Kingdom, according to court documents, which do not name the person. The co-conspirator was not extradited to the U.S. for charges.
Bryan Huffman, an attorney for Sonderman, said his client’s sentence was fair “in light of Shane’s culpability.” Huffman said although Sonderman found the victim’s address, it was the co-conspirator who placed the call to police.
“Mr. Sonderman has expressed his remorse on multiple occasions. He has expressed his regret regarding Mr. Herring’s death. He further was able to convey his sincere remorse to the other victims as well,” Huffman said via email.
Sonderman targeted at least five people across the country, demanding they give up their social media handles, according to an indictment. Herring was the only victim who died.
If the person surrendered the handle, Sonderman would then put it up for sale on internet forums, the indictment stated. If they refused, Sonderman and his co-conspirator would “bombard the owner with repeated phone calls and text messages” and harass them in an attempt to get them to change their mind, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said Sonderman and his co-conspirator would find addresses for their target and the target’s family members and post the information online. The two would send food deliveries to the homes and would make “swatting” calls to police departments in their target’s hometown.
Swatting is a dangerous tactic where a person calls in fake threats to the police so law enforcement responds.
On the night of Herring’s death, his two daughters received unexpected cash-only pizza deliveries at their homes. The drivers told the daughters the orders were for Herring. Alarmed, Fitch said she tried calling and texting her father but didn’t get a response.
“We asked my brother-in-law to go to my dad’s property. He believed that something was wrong,” she said. “That’s when he heard from [my dad’s] girlfriend that everything was not OK, and she was in the back of a cop car following my dad in an ambulance to the hospital.”
At the same time the daughters were getting pizza deliveries, law enforcement was swarming Herring’s home. Police had received a call that a murder occurred at the residence and that pipe bombs were on the property.
Herring had a heart attack after going out to see what was happening.
The family eventually learned that Herring was the victim of a swatting call and this all stemmed from his Twitter handle, “@Tennessee.”
Fitch said her father picked the handle shortly after the social media platform launched in 2006. He chose it because of his love for his home state.
Over the years, Herring received several monetary offers for his handle, but he didn’t want to sell it, she said. He never expressed any concern or fears about being contacted over his Twitter handle.
The family said they are speaking out because they want tougher laws for these types of incidents.
“In court, there were six families affected, and as a total for all of the families, we only got a 60-month sentence,” Fitch said.
“Some of the families had been harassed for four years,” Fitch’s brother-in-law, Greg Hooge, said. “That was four years something could have been done, but there are no laws against harassment over the internet with the way they were doing it. If it would have been stopped four years ago, this would have never happened.”