Memphis, TN – Shane Sonderman, 20, of Lauderdale County has been sentenced to sixty months in federal prison for participating in a group whose swatting call led to the death of a grandfather in Sumner County, Tennessee, last April. Acting U.S. Attorney Joseph C. Murphy Jr., announced the sentence today.
According to information presented in court, from at least July 2018 through May 2020, Sonderman conspired with others throughout the United States and other countries to extort the holders of unique Instagram and Twitter handles by “swatting” them—a harassment technique that involves deceiving emergency services dispatchers into sending police and emergency SWAT or response teams to the unwitting third party’s residential address when no actual emergency exists. Sonderman and his coconspirators did this to extort their targets into giving up control of their social media identifiers or “handles” so they could be sold to others. The group also sent harassing text messages and ordered unpaid-for food to be delivered to their targets’ homes.
On April 27, 2020, SWAT teams were called to the Sumner County, Tennessee, residence of Mark Herring, the holder of the Twitter handle @Tennessee. The caller alleged that he had shot a woman in the head there, and she was dead. First responders arrived and found Herring on his porch and with guns drawn, ordered him to approach with his hands in the air. Herring suffered a fatal heart attack before anyone on the scene knew the call was a hoax. Sonderman obtained personal information about Herring and his family and posted those details to a chat platform online where one of his coconspirators could go to obtain it and use the information to place a plausible call to emergency services.
Another victim, a resident of Oregon, was tormented when emergency services were sent to the Ohio residence of her parents and she subsequently received anonymous text messages on her phone that read “did your parent’s (sic) enjoy the firetrucks?” and “i (sic) plan on killing your parents next if you do not hand the username on instagram over to me.” Desirable handles can be sold for thousands of dollars.
Many law enforcement agencies around the country participated in this investigation, including the FBI Field Offices in Memphis, Tennessee, and Akron, Ohio, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Sumner County (Tennessee) Sheriff’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Ireland prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.