Andrew Finch, a 28-year-old man who lived in Wichita, Kansas, was killed by an police officer on Thursday after someone called in a phony report of a hostage situation. Although authorities have not determined the events that led up to the fatal shooting, they are looking into accusations that a member of an online gaming community was attempting to play a prank known as “swatting,” which involves placing a fake emergency call in order to direct a SWAT team to an address.
According to Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston, an officer was responding to a report that someone had been shot in the head and that three people were being held hostage in the residence. Livingston said that Finch was shot when he went to the front door, though the police chief did not disclose whether the victim had a gun or what prompted the officer to discharge his firearm. The officer did not find any other wounded people when he entered the home. Finch’s mother told the Wichita Eagle that her son was unarmed.
More than a dozen Twitter users who claimed to be part of an online gaming community told the Eagle that the attempted swatting was the result of a feud between two Call of Duty players. The sequence of events, according to the Twitter users, began when one player threatened another with “swatting” during an argument. The intended target then provided the perpetrator with a fake address that happened to belong to Finch’s family. (Finch’s mother says that he did not play video games.) A person whom other Twitter users accused of making the call posted a message reading, “I DIDNT GET ANYONE KILLED BECAUSE I DIDNT DISCHARGE A WEAPON AND BEING A SWAT MEMBER ISNT MY PROFESSION,” according to the Eagle. The account was later suspended.
The FBI has confirmed that it is involved with the investigation. UMG Gaming, which facilitates online tournaments for games like Call of Duty, is also offering assistance. Some phony police calls are a felony under Kansas law and can carry a 13-month sentence for first-time offenders.
In 2013, the FBI estimated that there were 400 incidents of swatting each year. A July column in the New York Times opinion section suggested the numbers could be far higher. Other stories have discussed the challenges of stopping (and prosecuting) swatting and the ramifications of it happening to someone you know.