The U.S. Justice Department has filed criminal charges against three U.S. men accused of swatting, or making hoax reports of bomb threats or murders in a bid to trigger a heavily armed police response to a target’s address. Investigators say the men, aged 19 to 23, all carried out the attacks with the help of Tyler Barriss, a convicted serial swatter whose last stunt in late 2018 cost a Kansas man his life.
FBI agents on Wednesday arrested Neal Patel, 23, of Des Plaines, Ill. and Tyler Stewart, 19 of Gulf Breeze, Fla. The third defendant, Logan Patten, 19, of Greenwood, Mo., agreed to turn himself in. The men are charged in three separate indictments with conspiracy and conveying false information about the use of explosive devices.
Investigators say Patten, who used the Twitter handle “@spared,” hired Barriss in December 2017 to swat individuals and a high school in Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Around the same time, Stewart, a.k.a. “@tragic” on Twitter, allegedly worked with Barriss to make two phony bomb threats to evacuate a high school in Gurnee, Ill. In that incident, Barriss admitted telling police in Gurnee he had left explosives in a classroom and was high on methamphetamine and was thinking about shooting teachers and students.
Also in December 2017, Patel allegedly worked with Barriss to plan a bomb threat targeting a video game convention in Dallas, Texas. Patel is also accused of using stolen credit cards to buy items of clothing for Barriss.
The Justice Department’s media release on the indictments doesn’t specify which convention Barriss and Patel allegedly swatted, but a Wired story from last year tied Barriss to a similarly timed bomb threat that caused the evacuation of a major Call of Duty tournament at the Dallas Convention Center.
“When the social media star SoaR Ashtronova tweeted about the confusion she felt as she fled the event beneath the whir of police helicopters, Barriss taunted her from one of his Twitter accounts: ‘It got ran, baby girl. Thats what happens,” Wired reported.
Interestingly, it was a dispute over a $1.50 grudge match in a Call of Duty game that would ultimately lead to Barriss’s final — and fatal — swatting. On Dec. 28, 2017, Barriss phoned police in Wichita, Kan. from his location in California, telling them he was a local man who’d just shot his father and was holding other family members hostage.
Prosecutors say Barriss did so after getting in the middle of a dispute between two Call of Duty gamers, 18-year-old Casey Viner from Ohio and Shane Gaskill, 20, from Wichita. Viner allegedly asked Barriss to swat Gaskill. But when Gaskill noticed Barriss’ Twitter account suddenly following him online, he tried to deflect the attack. Barriss says Gaskill allegedly dared him to go ahead with the swat, but then gave Barriss an old home address — which was then being occupied by someone else.
When Wichita police responded to the address given by Barriss, they shot and killed 28-year-old Andrew Finch, a father of two who had no party to the dispute and did not know any of the three men.
Both Viner and Gaskill have been charged with wire fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Barriss pleaded guilty in Nov. 2018 to a total of 51 charges brought by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, Kansas and Washington, D.C. He has agreed to serve a sentence of between 20 to 25 years in prison. Barriss is slated to be sentenced on March 1, 2019.
Stewart’s attorney declined to comment. Lawyers assigned to Patel and Patten could not be reached for comment.
As the victim of a swatting attack in 2013 and several other unsuccessful attempts, I am pleased to see federal authorities continue to take this crime seriously. According to the FBI, each swatting incident costs emergency responders approximately $10,000. Each hoax also unnecessarily endangers the lives of the responders and the public, and draws important resources away from actual emergencies.