Bethpage, TN – The family of a loving grandfather who was literally scared to death after he became the victim of a “swatting” scheme has gone public with the details surrounding his death.
Family members said 60-year-old Mark Herring was always on the forefront of trends and was ahead of most people when he grabbed the username @Tennessee the same week that Twitter launched, WKRN reported.
“He was so smart,” Herring’s daughter, Corinna Fitch, said. “I think he joined Twitter the day or the week Twitter came about.”
Herring was a big University of Tennessee fan, according to his daughter.
“He just wanted to be @Tennessee because he loved the Vols,” Fitch told WKRN.
His family said Herring would mention having received offers to buy the Twitter handle every so often, but he had no interest in selling his username.
Then in April of 2020, he was targeted by two teenagers who would stop at nothing to gain control of it, NBC News reported.
Shane Sonderman, who was 17 at the time, and another juvenile who lived in the United Kingdom targeted at least five different people across the United States and demanded they surrender their social media handles to them.
The indictment said that if Sonderman and his co-conspirator got the person to give up the handle, they would put it up for sale for thousands of dollars on the web, NBC News reported.
But for those who refused to cooperate or pushed back, like Herring, the boys would harass them and “bombard the owner with repeated phone calls and text messages” until they changed their mind and gave in to the demand.
Prosecutors said Sonderman and his partner in crime would target family members and dox them, NBC News reported.
They sent cash-only food deliveries to people’s houses and made “swatting” calls to local police departments in their victims’ hometowns.
“Swatting” is when someone calls in a fake threat or fake crime to the police in order to cause a massive police response at that address.
On April 27, 2020, Sonderman and his UK friend sent pizzas to several of Herring’s family members, including his daughters, WKRN reported.
“I open the door and he says, ‘I have a pizza for Mark Herring,’” Fitch recalled. “He would have told me if he sent us pizza. I went away and called, texted — no response.”
Her sister and mother received another pizza allegedly from Herring across town, WKRN reported.
His son-in-law, Greg Hooge, was concerned there was something nefarious going on and called Herring.
“I thought maybe something is wrong with Mark. I started calling him. I finally reached his live-in girlfriend,” Hooge told WKRN. “She said, ‘everything is not OK. I’m in the back of a cop car. I got to go.’”
It turned out that Herring had received an anonymous call earlier in the day demanding he turn over the @Tennessee handle and he had refused, WKRN reported.
Hours later, chaos erupted outside his home and his next-door neighbor called to warn him.
“His neighbor called and said, ‘there’s police everywhere and they think a man has killed a woman and he’s on your property. You need to take cover,’” Hooge recalled.
“He went out of the house with a gun because he heard someone was on his property and he sees all these cops around him,” Fitch explained. “They ask if he’s Mark Herring and [said] ‘put your hands up.’ He tosses the gun away to show he’s not a threat then [puts his] hands up.”
Moments later, Herring’s heart stopped as he suffered a massive coronary, WKRN reported.
“I believe he was scared to death,” Fitch told NBC News. “I believe from the adrenaline and the guns in his face… a heart attack happened.”
Months later, Herring’s family learned the details of what Sonderman and his co-conspirator had done to the loving grandfather, WKRN reported.
Sonderman was 17 years old when he swatted Herring but turned 18 shortly thereafter, NBC News reported.
He was arrested and charged as an adult with wire fraud/conspiracy, interstate communication of threats, false information and hoaxes, and conspiracy.
Hi co-conspirator in the UK is still a juvenile and was not extradited to the United States to face charges, NBC News reported.
Sonderman pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in March in exchange for having the other charges dropped.
He was sentenced to five years behind bars on July 21 for his role in the incident that Herring’s family believes led to the 60 year old’s death, NBC News reported.
Herring’s family maintained that wasn’t enough punishment to suit the crime.
“In court, there were six families affected, and as a total for all of the families, we only got a 60-month sentence,” Fitch said.
Herring was the only victim who died, NBC News reported.
“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.”