The individual who allegedly made a fake emergency call to Kansas police last week that summoned them to shoot and kill an unarmed local man has claimed credit for raising dozens of these dangerous false alarms — calling in bogus hostage situations and bomb threats at roughly 100 schools and at least 10 residences.
On Friday authorities in Los Angeles arrested 25-year-old Tyler Raj Barriss, who is thought to be known online as “SWAuTistic.” As noted in last week’s story, SWAuTistic is an admitted serial swatter, and was even convicted in 2016 for calling in a bomb threat to an ABC affiliate in Los Angeles. The Associated Press reports that Barriss was sentenced to two years in prison for that stunt, but was released in January 2017.
In his public tweets (most of which are no longer available but were collected by KrebsOnSecurity), SWAuTistic claimed credit for bomb threats against a convention center in Dallas and a high school in Florida, as well as an incident that disrupted a much-watched meeting at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in November.
But privately — to a small circle of friends and associates — SWAutistic bragged about perpetrating dozens of swatting incidents and bomb threats over the years.
Within a few hours of the swatting incident in Kansas, investigators searching for clues about the person who made the phony emergency call may have gotten some unsolicited help from an unlikely source: Eric “Cosmo the God” Taylor, a talented young hacker who pleaded guilty to being part of a group that swatted multiple celebrities and public figures — as well as my home in 2013.
Taylor is now trying to turn his life around, and is in the process of starting his own cybersecurity consultancy. In a posting on Twitter at 6:21 p.m. ET Dec. 29, Taylor personally offered a reward of $7,777 in Bitcoin for information about the real-life identity of SWAuTistic.
In short order, several people who claimed to have known SWAuTistic responded by coming forward publicly and privately with Barriss’s name and approximate location, sharing copies of private messages and even selfies that were allegedly shared with them at one point by Barriss.
In one private online conversation, SWAuTistic can be seen bragging about his escapades, claiming to have called in fake emergencies at approximately 100 schools and 10 homes.
SWAuTistic sought out an interview with KrebsOnSecurity on the afternoon of Dec. 29, in which he said he routinely faked hostage and bomb threat situations to emergency centers across the country in exchange for money.
“Bomb threats are more fun and cooler than swats in my opinion and I should have just stuck to that,” SWAuTistic said. “But I began making $ doing some swat requests.”
By approximately 8:30 p.m. ET that same day, Taylor’s bounty had turned up what looked like a positive ID on SWAuTistic. However, KrebsOnSecurity opted not to publish the information until Barriss was formally arrested and charged, which appears to have happened sometime between 10 p.m. ET Dec. 29 and 1 a.m. on Dec. 30.
The arrest came just hours after SWAuTistic allegedly called the Wichita police claiming he was a local man who’d just shot his father in the head and was holding the rest of his family hostage. According to his acquaintances, SWAuTistic made the call after being taunted by a fellow gamer in the popular computer game Call of Duty. The taunter dared SWAuTistic to swat him, but then gave someone else’s address in Kansas as his own instead.
Wichita Police arrived at the address provided by SWAuTistic and surrounded the home. A young man emerged from the doorway and was ordered to put his hands up. Police said one of the officers on the scene fired a single shot — supposedly after the man reached toward his waist. Grainy bodycam footage of the shooting is available here (the video is preceded by the emergency call that summoned the police).
The man shot and killed by police was unarmed. He has been identified as 28-year-old Andrew Finch, a father of two. Family members say he was not involved in gaming, and had no party to the dispute that got him killed.
According to the Wichita Eagle, the officer who fired the fatal shot is a seven-year veteran with the Wichita department. He has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
Earlier reporting here and elsewhere inadvertently mischaracterized SWAuTistic’s call to the Wichita police as a 911 call. We now know that the perpetrator called in to an emergency line for Wichita City Hall and spoke with someone there who took down the caller’s phone number. After that, 911 dispatch operators were alerted and called the number SWAuTistic had given.
This is notable because the lack of a 911 call in such a situation should have been a red flag indicating the caller was not phoning from a local number (otherwise the caller presumably would have just dialed 911).
The FBI estimates that some 400 swatting incidents occur each year across the country. Each incident costs first responders approximately $10,000, and diverts important resources away from actual emergencies.