A 60-year-old man died of a heart attack after being swatted over his Twitter handle

In April 2020, a 60 year-old man was the victim of a swatting attack: where perpetrators phone US police forces with bogus information, hoping to incite an armed response at their victim's location. After surrendering to the police surrounding his home, Mark Herring suffered a heart attack and died shortly thereafter.

Now a new report by WKRN News 2 (thanks also to GamingBible) has shed light on the circumstances of this incident, and the petty reasons behind it. Mr Herring had been targeted by minors because of his Twitter handle of @Tennessee, which was considered a valuable handle. He was apparently one of many being targeted in this fashion.

Herring's family explained the incident to News 2's Alex Denis. Mr Herring's son said it began when "The neighbours called and said 'There's police everywhere, and they think a man has killed a woman and he's on your property, you gotta take cover.'"

"He went out the house with a gun, because he heard someone was on his property" says Corinna Fitch, Mr Herring's daughter. "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."

Mr Herring then suffered a heart attack, and died in hospital shortly thereafter. His wife says he was "scared to death."

Months later the family learned about Shane Sonderman, the minor who had been targeting Mr Herring and was responsible for the attack.

"He was from Tennessee," says Corinna Fitch. "He's the one that collected all our information, my address, my sister's, my moms, my mother sister, and put it on a channel on Discord, which is a gaming chat forum."

This was apparently an intimidation tactic to pressure Mr Herring into giving up the Tennessee username. Then, "a kid in the United Kingdom made the call to my dad's local police department."

The minor in the UK is still not of age, and thus cannot be identified or extradited. A federal grand jury indictment against Sonderman, who is currently in prison, cites six victims. Mr Herring was the only one to die.

Sonderman faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, which Mr Herring's family considers inadequate. "You've not just changed that one person's life, you've done a ripple effect. They need to pay for that."

Mr Herring was targeted for the value of a Twitter handle. "Three or four thousand dollars," Corinna Fitch says. "Like, pennies compared to a life."

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."