Three days after last Christmas, a 25-year-old Los Angeles man named Tyler Barriss allegedly called police in Wichita, Kansas, and pretended that he’d murdered his father and was holding hostages in a house near the city’s downtown. Barriss thought the house belonged to an avid Call of Duty gamer he wanted to harass, but he was mistaken about the address. (WIRED has published a detailed account of the case.)
When the cops showed up in force, 28-year-old Andrew Finch opened his front door to see what the commotion was about; seconds later he was dead, shot by a police sniper across the street. It was the first time this sort of vile prank—commonly known as swatting—had resulted in a death, and Barriss was charged with a litany of crimes in state and federal court, including involuntary manslaughter. He was extradited to Kansas, where he’s currently being held.
Now Barriss’ considerable legal troubles have become even more complex. Late yesterday, federal prosecutors in the Central District of California filed a criminal information document that accuses Barriss of a vast new array of crimes. The earliest date back to September and October of 2015, when prosecutors allege that Bariss phoned in a series of bomb threats to schools in Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Illinois. (Barriss told me that he “evacuated” these schools because his online Halo friends were students there, and he wanted to give them a day off class.)
But the bulk of the 46 crimes detailed in the document occurred during the last four months of 2017, shortly after Barriss was released from Los Angeles County Jail after having served nearly two years behind bars. (He had pled no contest to two separate crimes: Making bomb threats against an ABC affiliate in October 2015, and violating a protective order that had been taken out by his grandmother in January 2017.) Those crimes run the gamut from bomb threats to swattings to bank fraud, and several involve unindicted co-conspirators who are identified only by their Twitter handles: @Internetlord, @Tragic, @Throw, and @Spared.
Prosecutors allege, for example, that Barriss called police in Dedham, Massachusetts, and claimed to be an ISIS member who had planted a bomb inside a local television station; that he swatted someone in Milford, Connecticut, at the request of @Internetlord; and that he accepted three payments of $10 each from @Throw in exchange for swatting people in Avon, Indiana, and Cincinnati. The bank fraud charge, meanwhile, centers on @Internetlord’s alleged use of a stolen credit card to buy a NASA hat for Barriss, who was living in a Los Angeles homeless shelter at the time. (Barriss conducted his campaign of terror from the computers at a nearby public library.)
The filing of the criminal information document in California is part of a recent flurry of legal activity involving Barriss. On September 26, the pending trial in his involuntary manslaughter case, which had been scheduled to begin in a Kansas state court on October 1, was postponed until January 7.
That same day, Barriss was formally transferred into the custody of the US Marshals. He’s now being held in a detention center in Newton, Kansas, about 25 miles outside Wichita, as he awaits trial in the federal District of Kansas for charges ranging from cyberstalking to wire fraud. (Shane Gaskill, whom Barriss allegedly intended to target in the Wichita swatting, and Casey Viner, an Ohioan whom prosecutors claim asked Barriss to carry out the hoax, are co-defendants in the case; both have pled not guilty.)
The California case appears likely to be rolled into the federal case in Kansas. Barriss’ federal public defender has already requested that the case be transferred to the District of Kansas, where Barriss would then to plead guilty to the charges listed in the criminal information document. It is highly possible that a third federal case involving Barriss could be transferred in a similar manner: In May he was indicted in the District of Columbia for phoning in bomb threats to the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission.
The growing legal pressure on Barriss comes amid increased state and federal efforts to combat the menace of swatting. In April, for example, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer signed into law the Andrew T. Finch Act, which increased the maximum penalty for swatting to 41 years. Two months later, Congressman Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, introduced a federal anti-swatting bill. And Seattle police recently launched a program that invites people who think they might be targeted by swatters, such as high-profile Twitch streamers, to share their concerns with the cops, so that dramatic 911 calls involving their addresses can be handled with appropriate skepticism.
The California charges may heap further misery on Barriss, but that doesn’t bring much satisfaction to the family of Andrew Finch. Finch’s mother, Lisa, has directed the bulk of her ire at the Wichita Police Department, which she believes acted with extreme recklessness on the night of her son’s death. She is suing the city and several of its police officers in federal court for violating Andrew’s civil rights. Barriss, meanwhile, is someone she rarely allows herself to mention. “I’m glad he’s caught—maybe that will save other people’s lives,” she says. “But why are they just now doing this? Why didn’t they stop him earlier?”