Tyler Barriss was supposed to be in prison for swatting. Instead, he was out, online, and allegedly placed a fatal swatting hoax on Thursday.
Barriss, 25, is accused of falsely reporting a murder and hostage situation at a stranger’s home after a video game dispute on December 28. When police arrived on the scene, they opened fire on 28-year-old Andrew Finch, killing him as he came to his own front door. The dangerous hoax is called “swatting,” in reference to the heavily armed police SWAT teams who respond to the prank calls.
Barriss, who went by “SWauTistic” online, was an experienced swatter, with multiple arrests under his belt. And if he’d served all his time for a previous bomb threat, or a more recent protective order, Barris would have still been in prison at the time of Finch’s death, jail records show.
In 2015, KABC-TV in Glendale, California had been forced to evacuate all employees twice in two weeks after someone called in bomb threats. Barriss was arrested and convicted in the crank calls and was sentenced to two years in prison in in May 2016. Instead of serving a full sentence, Barriss was released in January 2017, prison records show.
He was arrested again that same month, this time on charges of violating a protective order. Barriss entered a plea accepting the conviction, and was sentenced to another year of prison on January 27.
But once again, Barriss was able to leave prison early, getting out of his Los Angeles County lockup on August 24, 2017. Within months, he was back to swatting.
On December 8, Barriss was boasting on his “SWauTistic” Twitter profile.
“Gonna swat MLG Dallas,” Barriss messaged another Twitter user, in reference to Major League Gaming’s conference in Dallas that day.
“Do it up,” the other user replied, egging Barriss on. “[You] wont.”
Minutes later, the Major League Gaming was evacuating its Dallas convention center over a bomb threat, and Barriss was taking credit on Twitter.
“Sorry @MLG,” Barriss tweeted at Major League Gaming, encouraging Twitter users to follow his backup swatting account “just in case twitter suspends me for being a god.”
Six days later, Barriss allegedly set his sights on an even higher-profile target.
“Gonna evacuate the net neutrality meeting guys don’t be upset,” he tweeted on December 14, while the Federal Communications Commission was holding a vote to eliminate net neutrality protections. Shortly after Barriss’s tweet, the FCC meeting was put on brief hold while everyone was evacuated and police swept the room with bomb-sniffing dogs.
Barriss proclaimed himself “too godly.”
“l swatted FCC and MLG Dallas l'm not busted yet 😜” he tweeted. “if you can't pull off a swat without getting busted you're not a leet hacking God its that simple”
In now-deleted tweets recovered by cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs, Barriss also used the account to claim credit for a bomb threat and evacuation at a Florida high school, and claimed in direct messages that he had swatted approximately 10 homes and 100 schools.
“Bomb threats are more fun and cooler than swats in my opinion and I should have just stuck to that,” he told Krebs. “But I began making $ doing some swat requests.”
Swatters-for-hire, as Barris claimed to be, are a cottage industry, with some hoaxers pulling in serious cash before their arrests. In March, Israeli police arrested 19-year-old Michael Kadar for allegedly advertised customizable bomb threats online, and placed over 100 at U.S. schools and community centers.
But on December 28, the stunts finally appeared to catch up with Barriss. That night, two Call of Duty teammates had an argument with a teammate after they lost a $2 bet. Both players threatened to swat each other, the gaming news site Dexerto first reported. One player allegedly sent the other a Wichita, Kansas address, claiming it was his own and daring him to swat it. The other player allegedly sent the address to Barriss, and placed an order.
Barriss allegedly called Wichita City Hall’s security desk, claiming to be a Wichita man who had just shot his father, and was holding his mother and brother hostage.
“They were arguing and I shot him in the head and he’s not breathing anymore,” Barriss allegedly said. He allegedly threatened to set his house on fire, then confirmed that police would come to the correct home. “Do you have my address correct?” he asked the operator.
Armed officers went to the address Barriss had allegedly provided. But the house didn’t belong to Barriss or his Call of Duty rival. Instead, Finch, a father of two with no connection to Barriss answered the door. He was unarmed.
But police, who said they told Finch to put his hands up, said they thought he might have been reaching for a weapon. One officer opened fire on Finch as he emerged from the house, killing him on the spot.
“I heard my son scream, I got up and then I heard a shot,” Finch’s mother Lisa said in a Friday press conference. “What gives the cops the right to open fire? Why didn’t they give him the same warning they gave us? That cop murdered my son over a false report.”
The officer who fired the fatal shot was placed on administrative leave. In an unrelated incident two days later, a different Wichita police officer shot a 9-year-old girl while responding to report of a suicidal person. The officer had aimed at a dog that allegedly charged at him inside the home, but accidentally shot the child. The reportedly suicidal man was cooperative and unarmed.
Within hours of Finch’s killing, gamers were tweeting about the Call of Duty dispute, and pointing to Barriss as the likely swatter. On Twitter, where he was still anonymous, Barriss appeared to confirm himself as the swatter, but pushed back against people who accused him of being responsible for Finch’s death.
“So then how about I just get the death sentence??????? For not killing someone. Honestly think about how stupid some of you are,” he tweeted Friday. “Will me serving ANY time justify someone dying? k. Thank u. I didnt do shit but if you really think I did then I shall just get death sentence IMO.”
His tweets grew more aggravated throughout the day.
“Hypothetically speaking,” he tweeted later that day. “Let's say I just kill myself RIGHT now for the purpose of this getting through your guys heads. Will justice have been served? Will the family stop mourning? Or do you then just begin to hate the cop for killing him, which is what some Fb users r doing.”
Barriss gave an interview to a popular YouTuber in an attempt to clear his name.
“I was minding my own business at the library,” Barriss said in the interview, still under a pseudonym. “Somebody contacted me and said this [expletive] just gave me his address and he thinks nothing’s gonna happen. You wanna prove him wrong? And I said sure, I love swatting kids who think nothing’s gonna happen.”
Hours later, Los Angeles police arrested Barriss for his alleged role in Finch’s death.