Teens’ Scheme to Takeover Twitter Handles Ends With Tragic Death in Swatting Incident

Teens’ Scheme to Takeover Twitter Handles Ends With Tragic Death in Swatting Incident
Photo: Lionel Bonaventure, Getty Images

A troll conspiracy to capture a generic Twitter handle has resulted in death, Nashville ABC affiliate WKRN has reported. According to the station, an underage extortionist going after the “@Tennessee” Twitter account placed a false 9-11 report (“swatting”) of a shooting at the home of 60-year-old handle owner Mark Herring. When confronted by a police force shouting to put his hands down, Herring suffered a heart attack and died.

Herring’s family members told the station that, leading up to the tragedy on April 27th, 2020, pizza deliveries for Herring mysteriously arrived at their homes — a common troll to make the recipient pay for pizza they hadn’t ordered. On the morning of his death, they later learned, Herring had received a call demanding that he sell his handle and refused.

In May 2020, a federal grand jury charged Tennessee resident Shane Sonderman, a minor at the time of Herring’s death, with a litany of threats and coordinated harassment campaigns against Herring and five other people over valuable handles. The maximum for all charges are fines of up to $US1 ($1.4) million and 35 years in prison.

According to the brief summary in the indictment, Sonderman and co-conspirators set out to loot “simple, catchy, interesting, and descriptive user names” and sell them to Minecraft, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat users. If the owner didn’t voluntarily surrender, Sonderman and the crew posted names and addresses of handle owners on a Discord channel to drum up a troll army. They torpedoed them with threatening calls and texts with various phone numbers, sent food deliveries, and swatting calls. Two days before Herring’s death, a Sonderman co-conspirator reported a house fire at one person’s parents’ home, later texting: “did your parent’s (sic) enjoy the firetrucks?” And “i plan on killing your parents next if you do not hand the username on instagram (sic) over to me.”

In March 2021, Sonderman pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, extortion, a kidnapping threat, and providing misleading information that could lead to a person’s death. Sonderman asked that the government dismiss most of the counts, but that, too, was a troll: the acting U.S. state’s attorney scrapped his plea deal alleging that he kept on harassing people to get their social media handles. He awaits sentencing.

Read the indictment here: