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Troll jailed for 5 years after swatting of Twitter handle owner ends in death

Creator of QWK format suffered fatal heart attack as cops surrounded home

A teenager in the US has been jailed for five years for his role in the harassment and swatting of the owner of a desirable Twitter handle – a swoop that led to the netizen's death.

Shane Sonderman, of Lauderdale County, Tennessee, wanted the username @Tennessee that had been registered on Twitter years prior by Mark "Sparky" Herring, 60, of Bethpage, Tennessee. Herring is known to bulletin-board users as the inventor of the widely used offline mail reader format QWK.

Herring had refused to give up his Twitter handle to Sonderman, who had recruited a group of online friends to harass the man. The gang of miscreants found Herring’s home phone number, repeatedly sending him unwanted pizzas, and on April 27 last year, made a call to law enforcement, falsely claiming Herring had killed a woman and set up booby-trap bombs at his home, which sent cops rushing to the man's door. It was alleged someone with a British accent made the actual 911 call.

Herring grabbed a firearm fearing there were trespassers on his property, but dropped it when he realized there police officers at his home.

"He went out the house with a gun, because he heard someone was on his property," Corinna Fitch, Herring's daughter, said. "He sees all these cops around him, and they ask if he is Mark Herring, 'put your hands up,' so he tosses the gun away from him to show he's not a threat, and [put his] hands up."

At that moment, Herring suffered a massive fatal heart attack. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. "He was scared to death and that is what caused this heart attack," his relatives said.

Sonderman, who was a minor at the time of the swoop and has since turned 18, was collared the next month, and pleaded guilty in March to a federal charge of conspiracy.

Sending armed cops to someone’s house for harassment purposes is known as swatting, and it's not the first time it has led to a death. In 2017, Andrew Finch was killed by police after being ultimately swatted by Tyler Barriss in a row over the computer game Call of Duty. Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

We're told Sonderman scoured the internet looking for interesting and desirable usernames on social networks, from Instagram to Twitter, and pressured people to hand over those accounts.

The goal was to obtain the usernames and then sell them to others for a profit, and the teenager conspired with others on Discord to target their victims, according to an indictment [PDF] filed in a federal district court in Tennessee last year. It is said he ordered a fire truck to the home of a girl whose Instagram handle he wanted, and sent her a follow-up text message that read: “did your parent’s (sic) enjoy the firetrucks?”

On Wednesday this week, US District Judge Mark Norris sentenced Sonderman to 60 months behind bars. ®

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