By Steve Helling | People
A Tennessee man died last year after being targeted by a “swatting” call by someone who wanted him to give up his Twitter handle.
Mark Herring, 60, owned the Twitter handle @Tennessee. According to Newsweek, he chose the handle when Twitter was in its infancy because he loved his home state and the Tennessee Volunteers.
Over the years, Herring received many offers to sell the Twitter handle, but he always refused. Sometimes, a prospective buyer would get disgruntled at his refusal to sell.
But on April 27, 2020, things took a deadly turn.
According to WKRN-TV, several of Herring’s relatives began getting pizza deliveries that they had not ordered. Two of Herring’s daughters and his ex-wife got multiple pizzas — all cash on delivery. Alarmed, they began to reach out to Herring, but got no response.
Herring’s son-in-law finally got through to Herring’s live-in girlfriend. “She said, ‘everything is not OK. I’m in the back of a cop car. I got to go,'” Gary Hooge tells WKRN.
Police had received a call from Herring’s number, claiming that Herring had killed a woman on the property. Officers responded to the scene, guns drawn. They met Herring on his porch and demanded that he put his hands up. That’s when Herring had a massive and fatal heart attack.
The family soon learned that Herring had received a demand from two people who wanted his Twitter handle. He refused, and the people allegedly began intimidation tactics to force him to sell.
Police now say that two minors — one from Tennessee and one from the United Kingdom — were responsible for the events of April 27, 2020. The American minor has since turned 18 and is being charged as an adult. The alleged British co-conspirator is still a minor and will not be extradited to the United States.
According to documents filed in Western Tennessee District Court, Shane Sonderman pleaded guilty in March to wire fraud/conspiracy; interstate communication of threats; false information and hoaxes; and conspiracy. According to the charging documents, Sonderman had six other victims across the country. Only Herring died.
The court filing states that “as part of the harassment campaign, defendant Sonderman and his coconspirators would place calls to emergency service dispatchers or 911 dispatchers, claiming that an emergency was in progress at the residence of the owner of the desired” social media handle.
Swatting is defined as generating an emergency law enforcement response against a target victim under false pretenses. Swatters can do this by making phone calls to 911 — sometimes mimicking the victim’s phone number — and falsely reporting a violent emergency situation.
Court documents state that Sonderman is currently awaiting sentencing. An attorney for Sonderman did not immediately return PEOPLE’s call for comment.