According to authorities, Herring was “swatted” because the people responsible for the phony call wanted him to give up his username on Twitter.
The incident occurred in April 2020 after a made-up murder led police to Herring’s home in Tennessee’s Summer County. The victim’s family says the home was swarmed by law enforcement officers who had their guns drawn, and that the resulting shock and confusion led to Herring suffering a massive heart attack which led to his death.
“I believe he was scared to death,” said his daughter, Corinna Herring Fitch, to NBC News in a phone interview. “I believe from the adrenaline and the guns in his face … a heart attack happened.”
Sonderman was on trial for wire fraud/conspiracy, interstate communication of threats, false information and hoaxes, and conspiracy. Authorities say that he was 17 at the time of the incident, but that he turned 18 after his arrest. He was tried as an adult and, in March, agreed to a plea deal on the conspiracy charge that resulted in the other offenses being dropped.
Also suspected in the incident is a co-conspirator, reported to be a minor from the United Kingdom. That person, who was not named, was not extradited to the U.S. to face charges.
An indictment says that Sonderman targeted at least five people across America with demands that they give up their usernames on social media. The indictment goes on to say that if the person gave their name up then Sonderman would post it for sale on internet forums. If they didn’t then he and his co-conspirator would “bombard the owner with repeated phone calls and text messages” and engage in other harassment to try and coerce them. Prosecutors say the two would locate addresses and then post info online of their targets and members of their targets’ families. In addition to swatting calls to local police departments, the two would also send unwanted food deliveries.
The only victim that died is Herring.
Reports go on to say that on the night Herring died his two daughters got unordered cash-only pizza deliveries sent to their homes. The unsuspecting delivery people told the daughters the orders were for Herring.
“We asked my brother-in-law to go to my dad’s property. He believed that something was wrong,” Corinna added. “That’s when he heard from [my dad’s] girlfriend that everything was not OK and she was in the back of a cop car following my dad in an ambulance to the hospital.”
It was later learned by the family that Herring was the victim of a swatting call from people trying to get him to give up the Twitter handle “@Tennessee.”
His daughter said he got that name on the platform shortly after Twitter launched in 2006. He reportedly got several monetary offers for the name, but didn’t wish to sell it.
Herring’s family is hoping to get tougher laws that issue more severe penalties for these types of crimes.
“In court, there were six families affected and as a total for all of the families, we only got a 60-month sentence,” Corinna said.
Her brother-in-law, Greg Hooge, also expressed his dissatisfaction with the current system.
“Some of the families had been harassed for four years,” Hooge said. “That was four years something could have been done but there are no laws against harassment over the internet with the way they were doing it. If it would have been stopped four years ago, this would have never happened.”