BETHPAGE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Sixty-year-old Mark Herring was a tech guy.
“He was so smart,” recalled Corinna Fitch, one of Herring’s three daughters. Fitch said their father was always ahead of trends: “I think he joined Twitter the day or the week Twitter came about.”
He grabbed a handle that reflected his love for the state where he was born and raised his family.
“He just wanted to be @Tennessee because he loved the Vols,” said Fitch, with a slight smile.
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As Twitter grew in popularity, it was evident to all that Herring owned prime internet property.
“He would just in passing say, I got another offer on my Twitter handle today,” Fitch said.
But Herring couldn’t be bought and that was made clear April 27, 2020.
It was late in the evening when Fitch’s doorbell rang. “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.”
Across town, Fitch’s sister Katie Hooge and their mother Fran Herring also received a pizza delivery.
“I said, I didn’t order [pizza],” Fran recalled.
Pizza after pizza showed up. All cash on delivery. Fitch posted a message on Facebook to her father: “Hey, I need you to call me.’ And my sister texted, ‘What’s this about?’ And I just said, ‘I just got pizza for Daddy at the house,’ and she said, ‘WE just got pizza for Daddy at our house.'”
Fitch thought it was a prank. Mark’s son-in-law Greg Hooge had a different gut feeling.
“I thought maybe something is wrong with Mark. I started calling him. I finally reached his live-in girlfriend,” Greg remembered. “She said, ‘everything is not OK. I’m in the back of a cop car. I got to go.'”
The family eventually learned, earlier that day, an anonymous caller demanded Mark hand over his Twitter handle worth thousands of dollars. Mark refused. Hours later, the unthinkable happened.
“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,'” Greg 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,” explained Fitch. “They ask if he’s Mark Herring and [say] ‘put your hands up.’ He tosses the gun away to show he’s not a threat then [puts his] hands up.”
The innocent grandfather’s heart stopped, minutes after being confronted by authorities who thought they were responding to an active crime scene.
“I believe he was scared to death, and that is what caused his heart attack,” said Fran.
His family rushed to Sumner Regional Medical Center where they learned more about Herring’s final moments.
“I went into the hospital to identify my Daddy,” said Katie Hooge.
The medical staff kept referring to a 911 call that was placed. “It had been a prank phone call or a swatting phone call,” said Greg.
Months later, the family learned about Shane Sonderman, who was a minor back in April 2020 when the crime was committed.
“He was from Tennessee,” Fitch said. “He’s the one that collected all of our information…my address, my sister, my mom’s, my other sister’s. He put it on a channel on Discord, which is a gaming chat forum.”
The private information was released for use as an intimidation tactic meant to convince Herring to hand over his one-of-a-kind Twitter handle. Herring refused.
Another minor was in on the scheme. “A kid in the United Kingdom made the call to my dad’s local police,” Fitch said.
The accomplice will not be extradited from the United Kingdom because he’s currently a minor.
Sonderman is currently behind bars awaiting trial. A Federal Grand Jury indictment claims he had six victims across the country. Herring was the only one who died.
“They’re not playing a game, and they’re not thinking it’s funny. This is legit extortion,” said Greg.
The handles typically sell for $3,000-$4,000 — “pennies compared to a life,” Fitch said
The family shared Herring’s story now for several reasons. “Watch your kids on the internet, because they know more than you think they know,” said Fitch.
And, they want those guilty of swatting to face tougher penalties.
“You’ve not just changed that person’s life, you’ve done a ripple effect. And, they need to pay for that.”
Sonderman faces a conspiracy charge with five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He’s back in court on July 21st.