BETHPAGE, Tenn. — A swatting call led to the death of a Tennessee man who was targeted for his Twitter handle.
Mark Herring, 60, was a tech guy. His daughter, Corinna Fitch said her father joined Twitter a day, maybe a week, after it came out.
He grabbed a handle that reflected his love for the state where he was born and raised his family. His Twitter handle was @Tennessee.
As Twitter grew, it was clear to all that Herring owned prime internet property. His daughter said that every so often he would say in passing that he got another offer on his handle.
However, Herring couldn’t be bought.
On April 27, 2020, Fitch said their doorbell rang. When she opened the door, a delivery man said he had a pizza for Herring, but her father never told her pizza was on the way.
Across town, Fitch’s sister Katie Hooge and their mother Fran Herring also received a delivery. They also didn’t order pizza.
Pizza after pizza showed up that night — all cash on delivery.
Fitch went on Facebook and messaged her father.
“Hey, I need you to call me,” she said. “And my sister texted, What’s this about? And I just said, ‘I just got pizza for Daddy at the house and she said we just got pizza for Daddy at our house.'”
Fitch thought it was a prank. Herring’s son-in-law Greg Hooge had a gut feeling it was something else.
“I thought maybe something was wrong with Mark,” he said. “I started calling him. I finally reached his live-in girlfriend. She said, ‘Everything is not OK. I’m in the back of a cop car. I got to go.'”
The family eventually learned that earlier that day an anonymous caller demanded Herring hand over his Twitter handle worth thousands of dollars. He refused.
Greg Hooge said Herring’s neighbor called him and said there was police everywhere because a man killed a woman and told him to take cover.
Herring went outside his house with a gun because he heard someone was on his property — that’s when he saw cops all around him. The officers asked if he was Mark Herring and told him to put his hands up. Herring tossed the gun to show he was not a threat and raised his arms.
He died minutes later. His daughter said she thinks her father was scared to death, which may have caused his fatal heart attack.
His family rushed to Sumner Regional Medical Center where they learned more about what happened.
The medical staff kept referring to a 911 call that was placed.
“It had been a prank phone call or a swatting phone call,” Greg said.
Months later, the family learned about Shane Sonderman who was a Tennessee minor back in April 2020 when the crime was committed. Fitch said he collected all of their information including addresses. He then put the information on a channel on Discord — a gaming chat forum.
The private information was released for use in an intimidation tactic meant to convince Herring to hand over his one-of-a-kind Twitter handle.
Another minor was in on the scheme — a minor in the United Kingdom who made the call to Herring’s local police department.
The accomplice will not be extradited from the United Kingdom because he’s still a minor.
Sonderman is currently behind bars awaiting trial. A Federal Grand Jury indictment claims he had six other people he targeted across the country. Herring was the only one who died.
“They’re not playing a game, and they’re not thinking it’s funny. This is legit extortion,” Greg said.
The handles sell for $3,000 to $4,000, Fitch said.
“Pennies compared to a life,” she said
The family shared Herring’s story now for several reasons. They want people to watch their children on the internet because they know more than a parent may think.
They also want those guilty of swatting to face tougher penalties.