The alleged “swatter” behind Thursday’s police killing of a Wichita, Kansas, man has been arrested.
Tyler Barriss, a 25-year old from South Los Angeles, was taken into custody Friday night, according to the local ABC News affiliate. (ABC also notes that “Glendale police arrested a 22-year-old man with the same name for making bomb threats to KABC-TV” back in 2015.) NBC News, speaking to unnamed local “sources” in LA, says that Barriss “had been living at a transitional recovery center.”
Barriss is alleged to have a called in a lengthy threat to Wichita police on Thursday night after a Call of Duty game in which two teammates got into an altercation over a $1.50 wager. Screenshots posted to various Twitter accounts show the dispute escalating. Shortly thereafter, the Wichita police received a call alleging that someone at that address had killed his father, taken his family hostage, poured gasoline around the home, and was ready to light it on fire. Cops descended on the area and cordoned it off. When 28-year old Andrew Fitch opened the front door of his home to see why all the lights were flashing outside, he was shot and killed.
A Twitter account called “SWAuTistic” took credit for the swatting, but then just as quickly denied any responsibility for the death. On Thursday night, after the shooting, SWAuTistic wrote, “I DIDNT GET ANYONE KILLED BECAUSE I DIDNT DISCHARGE A WEAPON AND BEING A SWAT MEMBER ISNT MY PROFESSION.” His Twitter account was suspended soon after.
The man claiming to be behind SWAuTistic gave an interview on Friday to the YouTube show “Drama Alert,” in which he explained what allegedly happened. According to this account, SWAuTistic was “sitting in the library” and “minding my own business” when he was contacted by an irate Call of Duty player who had just gotten in a dispute with another player. The first player wanted the second player “swatted.” Would SWAuTistic take care of it?
“Sure, I love swatting kids who think that nothing’s going to happen,” SWAuTistic recounted. He followed his target on social media, and the target eventually egged him on by providing a real-world (but inaccurate) address in Wichita.
A 911 call in Wichita
What happened next was broken down on Friday by the Wichita police in a press conference, which you can watch online. According to the officer giving the briefing, a threatening call came in to City Hall at around 6:15pm local time. The caller said he had shot his dad in the head and was holding his mother and brother in the closet. He had a black handgun and wanted to kill himself. The call apparently continued for a full 20 minutes, even as police dispatch was looped in and officers headed to the scene.
Once there, police surrounded the Fitch residence. Andrew Fitch opened the door, saw police cars all over the place, and heard a police officer with a drawn weapon begin to shout at him: “Walk this way!” (You can see the whole ghastly incident, as captured on police cameras at the scene, along with the 911 call that began it, on the Wichita Police Facebook page. The camera footage comes at the end.)
Fitch appears confused and drops his hands, then a police spotlight shines on him, and he appears to raise his hands again. In the middle of a police officer shouting, “Walk this way!” a second time, a single shot rings out, killing Fitch.
According to Friday’s Wichita police briefing, an officer thought Fitch had reached for his “waistband” and then raised his hand again, potentially carrying a gun and posing a threat which needed to be eliminated. Fitch died almost immediately, while his mother and other residents of the house were taken outside, handcuffed, and taken to the police station for interviews.
The Wichita Police argue that you have to understand the officers’ state of mind here. The 911 call from SWAuTistic had not simply been a one-off; it was a long and continuing call with escalating threats. For instance, at 6:44pm SWAuTistic said he had poured gasoline around the home and was thinking about lighting it; Fitch was shot at 6:43pm, just as these further threats were being made.
The Wichita police briefer repeatedly put the full blame for what happened on SWAuTistic, saying that “the irresponsible actions of a prankster put people and lives at risk” and that “due to the actions of a prankster, we have an innocent victim.” (Finch’s mother had a different view of the police actions, telling the local paper, “What gives the cops the right to open fire? Why didn’t they give him the same warning they gave us? That cop murdered my son over a false report.”)
Wichita detectives followed leads Thursday night, including those from “social media,” and the LAPD arrested Barriss on Friday afternoon.
“Bomb threats are more fun”
Before the arrest, security reporter Brian Krebs was able to get in touch with the person behind the SWAuTistic account. According to Krebs, SWAuTistic “said he’s been the victim of swatting attempts himself, and that this was the reason he decided to start swatting others.” SWAuTistic also provided a reason why he was willing to make random threatening calls on behalf of aggrieved online gamers: “Bomb threats are more fun and cooler than swats in my opinion and I should have just stuck to that… But I began making $ doing some swat requests.”
He also claimed to have been behind the bomb threat that disrupted the FCC net neutrality vote for a few minutes earlier this month.
If Barriss is SWAuTistic, and if his account of how this unfolded is accurate, look for at least one more arrest in the coming days as police seek the person who commissioned the harassment.