Federal prosecutors have charged three men with carrying out a deadly hoax known as “swatting,” in which perpetrators call or message a target’s local 911 operators claiming a fake hostage situation or a bomb threat in progress at the target’s address — with the expectation that local police may respond to the scene with deadly force. While only one of the three men is accused of making the phony call to police that got an innocent man shot and killed, investigators say the other two men’s efforts to taunt and deceive one another ultimately helped point the gun.
According to prosecutors, the tragic hoax started with a dispute over a match in the online game “Call of Duty.” The indictment says Shane M. Gaskill, a 19-year-old Wichita, Kansas resident, and Casey S. Viner, 18, had a falling out over a $1.50 game wager.
Viner allegedly wanted to get back at Gaskill, and so enlisted the help of another man — Tyler R. Barriss — a serial swatter known by the alias “SWAuTistic” who’d bragged of “swatting” hundreds of schools and dozens of private residences.
The federal indictment references transcripts of alleged online chats among the three men. In an exchange on Dec. 28, 2017, Gaskill taunts Barriss on Twitter after noticing that Barriss’s Twitter account (@swattingaccount) had suddenly started following him.
Viner and Barriss both allegedly say if Gaskill isn’t scared of getting swatted, he should give up his home address. But the address that Gaskill gave Viner to pass on to Barriss no longer belonged to him and was occupied by a new tenant.
Barriss allegedly then called the emergency 911 operators in Wichita and said he was at the address provided by Viner, that he’d just shot his father in the head, was holding his mom and sister at gunpoint, and was thinking about burning down the home with everyone inside.
Wichita police quickly responded to the fake hostage report and surrounded the address given by Gaskill. Seconds later, 28-year-old Andrew Finch exited his mom’s home and was killed by a single shot from a Wichita police officer. Finch, a father of two, had no party to the gamers’ dispute and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Just minutes after the fatal shooting, Barriss — who is in Los Angeles — is allegedly anxious to learn if his Kansas swat attempt was successful. Someone has just sent Barriss a screenshot of a conversation between Viner and Gaskill mentioning police at Gaskill’s home and someone getting killed. So Barriss allegedly then starts needling Gaskill via instant message:
Defendant BARRISS: Yo answer me this
Defendant BARRISS: Did police show up to your house yes or no
Defendant GASKILL: No dumb fuck
Defendant BARRISS: Lmao here’s how I know you’re lying
Prosecutors say Barriss then posted a screen shot showing the following conversation between Viner and Gaskill:
Defendant VINER: Oi
Defendant GASKILL: Hi
Defendant VINER: Did anyone show @ your house?
Defendant VINER: Be honest
Defendant GASKILL: Nope
Defendant GASKILL: The cops are at my house because someone ik just killed his dad
Barriss and Gaskill then allegedly continued their conversation:
Defendant GASKILL: They showed up to my old house retard
Defendant BARRISS: That was the call script
Defendant BARRISS: Lol
Defendant GASKILL: Your literally retarded
Defendant GASKILL: Ik dumb ass
Defendant BARRISS: So you just got caught in a lie
Defendant GASKILL: No I played along with you
Defendant GASKILL: They showed up to my old house that we own and rented out
Defendant GASKILL: We don’t live there anymore bahahaha
Defendant GASKILL: ik you just wasted your time and now your pissed
Defendant BARRISS: Not really
Defendant BARRISS: Once you said “killed his dad” I knew it worked lol
Defendant BARRISS: That was the call lol
Defendant GASKILL: Yes it did buy they never showed up to my house
Defendant GASKILL: You guys got trolled
Defendant GASKILL: Look up who live there we moved out almost a year ago
Defendant GASKILL: I give you props though you’re the 1% that can actually swat babahaha
Defendant BARRISS: Dude MY point is You gave an address that you dont live at but you were acting tough lol
Defendant BARRISS: So you’re a bitch
Later on the evening of Dec. 28, after news of the fatal swatting started blanketing the local television coverage in Kansas, Gaskill allegedly told Barriss to delete their previous messages. “Bape” in this conversation refers to a nickname allegedly used by Casey Viner:
Defendant GASKILL: Dm asap
Defendant GASKILL: Please it’s very fucking impi
Defendant GASKILL: Hello
Defendant BARRISS: ?
Defendant BARRISS: What you want
Defendant GASKILL: Dude
Defendant GASKILL: Me you and bape
Defendant GASKILL: Need to delete everything
Defendant GASKILL: This is a murder case now
Defendant GASKILL: Casey deleted everything
Defendant GASKILL: You need 2 as well
Defendant GASKILL: This isn’t a joke K troll anymore
Defendant GASKILL: If you don’t you’re literally retarded I’m trying to help you both out
Defendant GASKILL: They know it was swat call
The indictment also features chat records between Viner and others in which he admits to his role in the deadly swatting attack. In the follow chat excerpt, Viner was allegedly talking with someone identified only as “J.D.”
Defendant VINER: I literally said you’re gonna be swatted, and the guy who swatted him can easily say I convinced him or something when I said hey can you swat this guy and then gave him the address and he said yes and then said he’d do it for free because I said he doesn’t think anything will happen
Defendant VINER: How can I not worry when I googled what happens when you’re involved and it said a eu [sic] kid and a US person got 20 years in prison min
Defendant VINER: And he didn’t even give his address he gave a false address apparently
J.D.: You didn’t call the hoax in…
Defendant VINER: Does t [sic] even matter ?????? I was involved I asked him to do it in the first place
Defendant VINER: I gave him the address to do it, but then again so did the other guy he gave him the address to do it as well and said do it pull up etc
Barriss is charged with multiple counts of making false information and hoaxes; cyberstalking; threatening to kill another or damage property by fire; interstate threats, conspiracy; and wire fraud. Viner and Gaskill were both charged with wire fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. A copy of the indictment is available here.
The Associated Press reports that the most serious charge of making a hoax call carries a potential life sentence because it resulted in a death, and that some of the other charges carry sentences of up to 20 years.
As I told the AP, swatting has been a problem for years, but it seems to have intensified around the time that top online gamers started being able to make serious money playing games online and streaming those games live to thousands or even tens of thousands of paying subscribers. Indeed, Barriss himself had earned a reputation as someone who delighted in watching police kick in doors behind celebrity gamers who were live-streaming.
This case is not the first time federal prosecutors have charged multiple people in the same swatting attacks even if only one person was involved in actually making the phony hoax calls to police. In 2013, my home was the target of a swatting attack that thankfully ended without incident. The government ultimately charged four men — several of whom were minors at the time — with conducting that swat attack as well as many others they’d perpetrated against public figures and celebrities.
But despite spending considerable resources investigating those crimes, prosecutors were able to secure only light punishments for those involved in the swatting spree. One of those men, a serial swatter and cyberstalker named Mir Islam, was sentenced to to just one year in jail for his role in multiple swattings. Another individual who was part of that group — Eric “Cosmo the God” Taylor — got three years of probation.
Something tells me Barriss, Gaskill and Viner aren’t going to be so lucky. Barriss has admitted his role in many swattings, and he admitted to his last, fatal swatting in an interview he gave to KrebsOnSecurity less than 24 hours after Andrew Finch’s murder — saying he was not the person who pulled the trigger.