A professional “swatter” — someone who pranks armed police into raiding the homes of innocent people — has claimed responsibility for placing a fake 911 call that led an officer to kill a man in Wichita.
Knowing nothing of the report, Finch went to the door as officers surrounded his home and was fatally shot on his porch.
In tweets and interviews, a man known online as “Swautistic” said he had placed the 911 call — which in his view was a routine hoax gone badly wrong.
“Bomb threats are more fun and cooler than swats in my opinion and I should have just stuck to that,” Swautistic told reporter Brian Krebs on Friday. “But I began making $ doing some swat requests.”
Several hours later, Los Angeles police arrested a 25-year-old named Tyler Barriss in connection with Finch’s death. According to KABC, he had been arrested two years earlier for making hoax bomb threats to their TV station.
Police have not said whether Barriss and Swautistic are the same person, or said who called them to the house, or why. But local reports suggest that Finch — a father of two — may have been randomly caught up in a feud between two videogamers who obtained his address.
The two unnamed gamers got into an argument over a match of Call of Duty on Thursday, according to the Wichita Eagle. Screenshots of the spat show that one of them dared the other to swat him — and for some reason gave out Finch’s address.
Swatting usually makes the news when police are tricked into raiding the home of a celebrity — like Justin Bieber in 2012 or Lil Wayne in 2015. But it’s lately become a way for people to escalate online disputes into the real world — punishing a rival with a surprise visit from a SWAT team.
Swautistic, as his screen name suggests, billed himself as something of a specialist.
“According to him, he’s put his shingle out there as someone who can be hired to make these false reports,” said Krebs, a former Washington Post reporter who now investigates digital security issues. “It seems like he got some kind of pleasure from doing it.”
This may be how the aggrieved Call of Duty player came to enlist Swautistic’s services.
“I was minding my own business at the library,” a man claiming to be Swautistic told the YouTube channel DramaAlert. “Someone contacted me and said, ‘Hey dude, this f—ing r—-d just gave me his address and he thinks nothing is going to happen. You want to prove him wrong?’ I said, ‘Sure, I love swatting kids who think that nothing’s going to happen.’ ”
On Thursday evening, a man phoned Wichita City Hall and ended up speaking with a 911 dispatcher. He said he had accidentally shot his father in the head during an argument and was now pointing a handgun at his mother and brother.
He threatened to set the house on fire, and then asked the operator: “Do you have my address correct?”
Police said the man continued to call 911 — even after they’d arrived at the address.
About an hour after sunset, officers surrounded the two-story house on McCormick Street where Finch was at home with his mother and at least two other people — none of them hostages.
“I had seen the red and blue light flashing in my window,” Lisa Finch told the Eagle. “I heard my son scream, I got up and then I heard a shot … They didn’t call the ambulance until he was dead.”
Finch was one of nearly 1,000 people shot and killed by U.S. police in 2017, according to The Post’s running tally. Historically, few officers are charged and even fewer convicted.
Without naming him, police later said that a man emerged from the house and was repeatedly ordered to put his hands up. An officer thought he saw the man reach for a weapon, and opened fire.
But the man had no weapon, and police soon realized there were no victims in the house.
At a news conference, a deputy police chief said the officer who fired his gun had been placed on paid leave, and he blamed Finch’s death on “the actions of a prankster.”
Lisa Finch questioned how police could have been so easily duped. Her son didn’t even play video games, she told the Eagle. “He has better things to do with his time.”
As reporters crowded around Finch’s blood-spattered porch on Thursday, @SWAuTistic wrote to 18,000 Twitter followers:
“That kids house that I swatted is on the news.”
He wrote another message defending himself, according to the Eagle:
“I DIDNT GET ANYONE KILLED BECAUSE I DIDNT DISCHARGE A WEAPON AND BEING A SWAT MEMBER ISNT MY PROFESSION.”
Swautistic’s main account subsequently disappeared from Twitter — suspended — but by then, Krebs and others were digging through archives and screenshots of his posts.
“Those tweets indicate that Swautistic is a serial swatter,” Krebs wrote on his website. He had claimed responsibility not just for Wichita — but for false bomb hoaxes at the Federal Communications Commission, a convention center in Dallas and a high school in Panama City, Fla.
A man Krebs believes to be Swautistic contacted him on Twitter on Friday morning through an alternate Twitter account. “I didn’t believe him at first,” Krebs told The Post. “But he was able to prove he was the swatter.”
Krebs asked Swautistic if he felt bad about Finch’s death.
“Of course I do,” he replied. But he blamed the shooting on police and the Call of Duty player who had given him Finch’s address — “taunting me to swat.”
“People will eventually . . . tell me to turn myself in or something,” he wrote. “I can’t do that; though I know its morally right. I’m too scared admittedly.”
“All so stupid,” he wrote by way of reflection. “This whole thing.”
A few hours after Krebs interviewed Swautistic on Friday, Los Angeles police arrested Tyler R. Barriss. Wichita police confirmed that he is a suspect in the case, though spokesman Paul Cruz said he didn’t know how or if Barriss is connected to Swautistic or other online personas.
He has been arrested at least twice before, according to county records — once earlier this year for unknown reasons, and once in 2015, when he called a phony bomb threat in to the ABC affiliate in Glendale, the station reported.
Reporters had to broadcast the evening news while bomb-sniffing dogs traipsed through their building that day, KABC reported, and Barriss received a two-year sentence.
The FBI is now involved in the Wichita case, according to police.
This story has been updated. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Barriss had been arrested in 2016. The arrest was in early 2017.