Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Swatting Has Finally Killed An Innocent Man

With the invention and common use of the telephone, people began figuring out ways to remotely annoy or harass people.  The initial technique is simply calling to have pizzas delivered that people didn't order.  But the next step is making fake calls to emergency services, such as fake fires and such. Eventually, people started figuring out that, saying the right things, you could trigger the involvement of police SWAT teams.  Because of the situation and the expectations, the SWAT team would enter with the equivalent of Shock And Awe.  Around 2008, the FBI started referring to prank incidents that specifically involve SWAT teams as "swatting."  The FBI presently estimates that there are roughly 400 swatting calls made each year.

With the rise of the Internet and Skype, swatting moved from the exclusive realms of TTY and phone phreakers to the everyday Joe, another case of technology enabling everyday people.  Using a combination of proxies and Skype, tracing calls became very difficult.  Also aiding this is swatters will call non-emergency lines or related numbers that don't have the tracing and recording equipment that the emergency lines do, further concealing who they are.  Combine that with the immediacy of dispatchers believing there is a situation where someone is ready to kill and must be stopped, and no one has time to check, inspect, and verify.  Swatting became commonplace by trolls looking to attack YouTubers in the gaming community that they didn't like.  Commentators, live streamers (especially live streamers, some of whom caught their swattings on camera), and people that just weren't liked got swatted.  In fact, some would act as hired guns, swatting people in exchange for money or goods.  This was espcially prominent in the Call Of Duty gaming fandom, and is often attributed to where the phenomena became generally accepted as normal by the online community.

As time went on, crtitics like me, Alpha Omega Sin, and more were saying swatting needed to stop.  Because it was just a question of when before someone got killed.  Swatter laughed it off for whatever reason.  Maybe they thought police training would override the situation they created and nothing bad would happen.  Maybe they thought police would figure out it was a prank and not approach the situation so dangerously.  Or maybe they just didn't care.  Even as the stakes rose.

History time -- in 2009, Verizon fraud investigator Billy Smith caught a phreaker named Matthew Weigman.  Among the charges Weigman plead guilty to were conspiracy, specifically "involvement in a swatting conspiracy," and attempting to realiate against a witness.  He got 11 years in the slammer.  In 2011, California State Senator Ted Lieu tried to introduce a bill to increase penalties for swatters.  He was swatted for his troubles.  In 2012, political commentator Erick Erickson was swatted.  In 2013, several celebrities like Sean Combs were swatted.

2014 became the year swatting went from a footnote to the mainstream.  In May, noted security expert Brian Krebs is targeted for swatting.  Authorities zeroed in on a 16 year old in Ottawa, Ontario.  Thirty emergency calls across North America were linked to him, and he was hit with 60 charges.  In August, YouTuber Kootra (Jordan Mathewson), head of the gaming company The Creatures LLS, was swatted in the middle of a CS:GO stream from his office.  Mattew was thrown to the ground as officers searched the room.  The stream continued, up until one officer set the camera lens-down on the desk.  The footage went viral, gaining over 4 million views on YouTube.  In November, police got a call of a hostage situation, the person demanding a ransom of $20K and stating they had planted explosives in their yard.  The address given was that of an executive for Bungie (Halo, Destiny).  After 45 minutes, police figured out the call came from a computer and not the house.  In December, in Coquitlam, British Columbia, a teenager with the handle "Obnoxious" got picked up by the fuzz.  Obnoxious was so confident of his safety that he would livestream his swatting calls.  He wound up pleading guilty to 23 crimes.

Then, the worst incident up to that point.  On January 15, 2015, Washita County 911 in Oklahoma recevied a call.  The caller identifed himself as Dallas Horton, a resident of Sentinel, and he had planted a bomb in a local preschool.  Sentinel Police Chief Louis Ross and a battalion of County Sheriff deputies raced to Ross' house and stormed it.  Horton, unaware of what was happening, thought it was a home invasion, grabbed his gun, and started firing, hitting Ross multiple times.  Thankfully, Ross was wearing a bulletproof vest -- he was taken to the hospital where he was treated and released.  It didn't take long for the cops to figured out they'd been had.  The Oklahoma State Bureau Of Investigation quickly concluded Horton didn't make the call and cleared him of shooting Ross because he was unaware it was cops making entry.  Eventually, the investigation concluded with a confession from a James Edward Holly.  He was angry with Horton and made the calls to the 911 center iwth a pair of "nonfunctioning" phones.  By some miracle, that was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.

Not anymore.

On Wednesday, December 28, two individuals were playing Call Of Duty, with the handles SWauTistic and 7aLeNT.  According to Dexerto, they got into an argument over a $1.50 wager.  SWauTistic threatened to swat 7aLeNT.  7aLeNT lied to SWauTistic about what his address acually was.  SWauTistic then called in a false report to the provided address, which actually belonged to an Andrew Finch, 28, in Wichita, Kansas.  According to Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston, "The original call, we were told that someone had an argument with their mother and dad was accidentally shot.  And that now that person was holding mother, brother, and sister hostage.  (The caller also claimed he had doused the house with gasoline and was threatening to set it on fire.  -- G)  We learned through that call that a father was deceased, adn had been shot in the head.  That was the information we were working off of."  Body cam footage released by the department showed Finch opening the door in confusion with his hands up.  Finch then made the mistake of lowering one of his hands.  For those that don't know, this is a common move for people carrying a concealed weapon.  The officer covering Finch, a seven-year veteran of the force, primed for a dangerous situation, thought he might be going for a weapon and opened fire.

It was a single bullet.  But that's all it takes.

Finch is dead.

The story went viral and got mainstream news coverage.  KrebsOnSecurity started monitoring SWaTistic's Twitter and and several weeks of the account's previous Tweets.  Among the Tweets recovered was one claimng credit for a bomb threat to a Florida high school in November, a phony call that resulted in the evacuation of the Dallas Convention Center on December 8th, and a threat that caused the FCC to pause its net neutrality vote a couple of weeks ago.  They also caught a Tweet where he said, "That kids house that I swatted is on the news."  SWaTistic had an "Oh, shit!" moment and changed his handle to GoredTutor36.  KrebsOnSecurity noted the change, as it happened on their watch.  GoredTutor36 was in direct communication with KrebsOnSecurity at this point.  GT36 said, "I didnt get anyone killed because I didnt discharge a weapon and being a SWAT member isn't my profession."  He felt remorse but would not be turning himself in.  "People will eventually (most likely those who know me) tell me to turn myself in or something.  I can't do that;  though I know its (sic) morally right.  I'm too scared admittedly."  He also wrote, "Bomb threats are more fun and cooler than swats in my opinion and I should have just stuck to that.  But I began making $ doing some swat requests," and that the whole thing was a thrill coming "from having to hide from police via net connections."

This morning, I wake up, and the first item on my news feed?  Police have made an arrest, one Tyler Barriss, a 25 year old man from LA.

People who just think swatting is a joke have been saying to people like me concerned about someone getting killed that it was just a hypothetical situation.

It's not hypothetical anymore.

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