It ended in actual gunshots and bloodshed, but according to law enforcement, it all started with the hyped-up braggadocio of online gamers.
Late last December, Casey Viner and Shane Gaskill, two young men separated by more than 800 miles and a time zone, clashed inside the digital playpen of “Call of Duty: WWII.” The Wichita Eagle would later report that the disagreement was over an online wager of less than $2.
But according to a federal indictment, Viner, from North College Hill, Ohio, became “upset” with Gaskill, a Kansas resident. Plotting a real-world revenge for the alleged slight delivered in the first-person shooter, Viner allegedly tapped a 25-year-old from Los Angeles named Tyler Barriss to “swat” Gaskill.
“Swatting” — or summoning police to an address under false emergency pretenses — is a particularly dangerous form of Internet harassment. But when Gaskill noticed that Barriss had started following him on Twitter, he realized what the Californian and Viner were plotting. Instead of backing down or running for help, Gaskill taunted the alleged swatter via direct message on Twitter.
“Please try some s–t ,” Gaskill allegedly messaged Barriss on Dec. 28, according to the indictment. “You’re gonna try and swat me its hilarious … I’m waiting buddy.”
The wait was not long. According to authorities, about 40 minutes after the messages on Twitter, police in Wichita swarmed a local house in response to a hostage situation. Twenty-eight-year-old Andrew Finch was shot dead by law enforcement — the result, allegedly, of Barriss’s fake call to police. The deadly hoax, sparked by an online gaming beef, quickly became international news.
Now Viner, Gaskill, and Barriss are all facing federal criminal charges stemming from the shooting. On Wednesday afternoon, Viner and Gaskill — 18 and 19, respectively — were in a Wichita courtroom making their first appearance in the case. The Associated Press reported that both men pleaded not guilty to a host of charges, including conspiracy to obstruct justice and wire fraud.
Barriss is in custody on state charges of involuntary manslaughter, interference with a law enforcement officer and giving a false alarm. Neither Viner nor Gaskill’s attorneys have publicly commented on the case. In January, Barriss, who has been accused of other swatting cases in the past, expressed remorse in a jailhouse interview with KWCH.
“I never intended for anyone to get shot and killed,” he told the station. “As far as serving any amount of time. I’ll just take responsibility and serve whatever time, or whatever it is that they throw at me. … I’m willing to do it. That’s just how I feel about it.” An arraignment for Barris is scheduled for this month. No lawyer for him could be reached.
In one twist, police say that when Gaskill and Barriss were speaking over Twitter, Gaskill gave the alleged swatter an address he claimed was his own — 1033 W. McCormick.
The address was apparently part of his taunts.
“Try something please kid,” Gaskill allegedly wrote. The Eagle reported that Gaskill’s family lived at the address until 2016, when they were evicted, according to court records.
Using the address, Barriss allegedly used a phone to get a Wichita area code listing, then called the local police department. On the line, Barriss allegedly told the emergency operator that he had killed his father and “was holding his mother and brother at gunpoint.” Barriss allegedly gave the operator the West McCormick address. The caller then “informed the dispatcher that he was considering lighting the house on fire before committing suicide,” the indictment stated.
When police responded to the scene, “a male came to the front door,” Deputy Wichita Police Chief Troy Livingston told the Eagle in December. “As he came to the front door, one of our officers discharged his weapon.”
Finch, the resident, was killed. According to authorities, he was completely unconnected to the online gamers and alleged swatter.
However, later that night, after Finch’s death was reported in the media, Gaskill realized what had happened, the federal indictment claims. He again messaged Barriss, this time urging him to scrub any record of their interactions.
“Need to delete everything,” he messaged, the indictment said. “This is a murder case now. … This isn’t a joke.”
Viner, who authorities say put the swatting in motion over his disagreement with Gaskill, also suddenly knew what had transpired after reports of Finch’s swatting death became national news.
“I was involved in someone’s death,” he allegedly messaged a friend. “I got pissed off at him he got pissed at me … he gave me his address and said pull up and I said I won’t be the one pulling up you’re getting swatted … I then gave the guy his address.”
Both Viner and Gaskill remain free on $10,000 bonds as their criminal cases continue. At Wednesday’s hearing, the judge ordered both men, who continue to live with their parents pending trial, to find jobs, the AP reported. The judge also forbade Viner and Gaskill from playing online video games.