Crime & Courts

Florida police nearly had Tyler Barriss arrested before fatal swatting call

Swatting suspect makes first appearance before a Wichita judge

Tyler Barriss makes his first court appearance via video from jail before Sedgwick County District Court Judge Faith Maughan on Friday. Barriss is charged with involuntary manslaughter in a fatal Wichita swatting case (Jan. 12, 2018)
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Tyler Barriss makes his first court appearance via video from jail before Sedgwick County District Court Judge Faith Maughan on Friday. Barriss is charged with involuntary manslaughter in a fatal Wichita swatting case (Jan. 12, 2018)

Police in Florida were closing in on arresting Tyler Barriss in the month prior to him allegedly making a false hostage report that led a Wichita officer fatally shooting a 28-year-old father of two.

In November, the Twitter user @SWAuTistic claimed responsibility for making a bomb threat to Arnold High School in Panama City Beach. During a jail interview with The Eagle after his January arrest, Barriss confirmed that he was behind the @SWAuTistic username.

But officers with the Panama City Beach Police Department hadn’t yet confirmed his name or his exact location, both needed to draft an arrest warrant.

If they had — Andrew Finch might still be alive.

Closing in on Barriss

Barriss allegedly called the Panama City Beach Police Department on Nov. 28 claiming to have “left some bombs at my high school and they’re going to blow up in 15 minutes.”

In an audio recording released by police, the caller says multiple dynamite-based bombs were distributed around the campus.

The call has similarities to the one Barriss is accused of making to Wichita police — including the same slow, drawn-out voice. The caller’s heavy breathing and vague descriptions of what he’s claiming to have done are also similar.

When the dispatcher asks the caller why he wants to blow up his school, he says, “I’m upset with some people. They got me mad and now they’re going to pay for it.”

No explosives were found.

Immediately following the threat, Florida officers discovered the number used to call their office was spoofed — like the number used to call Wichita’s City Hall on Dec. 28. “Spoofing” a phone number makes it appear to come from a local area code.

“Investigators were able to establish communication with Barriss utilizing an undercover persona and an undercover phone number,” Panama City Beach police said in a news release.

Over the course of several weeks, police were able to determine Barriss was within a three-block radius in a Los Angeles neighborhood. They had photographs of him, his age, and the location of WiFi areas that were used to make calls, police said.

But they didn’t have enough information to write a warrant until the swatting call in Wichita that led to the death of Andrew Finch.

It could be because Barriss didn’t have an address.

‘I heard he was always playing video games’

Barriss lived in a shelter in South Los Angeles. Police there found him in a local library.

Barriss told The Eagle he wasn’t talking to his family, and had stayed with a friend. After the short interview with The Eagle the day after he arrived to Wichita, Barriss reportedly started asking media outlets to pay him $100 for an interview.

Barriss Courtesy photo

Before staying in the shelter and with friends, Barriss apparently lived with his grandmother in Chatsworth, California. But she filed a protection order against him a couple years ago, saying he threatened to kill her if she reported that he was making bomb threats to local news stations and schools, according to court documents obtained in Los Angeles.

The house sits on a quiet road. In January, a peacock roamed the street. A rusted chain link fence surrounds the home, and a woman living there shut the door when a reporter knocked last month.

Across the street, neighbor John Wetzel was hesitant to talk about Barriss, and after almost reluctantly admitting that he knew Barriss, said he lived there for about five years.

“I rarely saw him, but when I did, he hardly ever spoke,” Wetzel said. “I guess he was always inside that house.”

A woman two houses down from where Barriss lived said her young boys would talk to him occasionally, but mostly he stayed to himself.

“I heard he was always playing video games," she said.

Panama City investigation

On Dec. 29, the day after the swatting call in Wichita, police in Florida realized the suspect information matched the person with whom they communicated.

Panama City Beach investigators shared their information with Wichita police, and their combined efforts were able to generate an arrest warrant, police said.

Barriss was arrested and held in two Los Angeles jails before being extradited to Kansas, where he awaits a preliminary hearing scheduled for later this month.

Panama City Beach police Lt. J.R. Talamantez told the Panama City News Herald that police had tied Barriss to about 30 other bomb threats.

“We had him,” Talamantez told the paper. “We just couldn’t put our hands on him.”

Wichita call

Barriss, 25, is accused of calling Wichita police on Dec. 28. The caller reported that he was inside a house at 1033 W. McCormick, that he had killed his father and was holding his mom and brother at gunpoint.

The caller told Wichita dispatchers that he wasn't going to put down his gun. However, there was no such incident happening inside the home.

When Andrew Finch — who was sitting on his couch when police arrived to his home — saw the blue and red lights, he opened his front door to see what was happening outside, his mother told reporters.

He was shot while standing in the doorway. Wichita police have said they told Finch to raise his hands, and after he lowered and raised them multiple times, a single shot was fired from across the street.

Contributing: Michael Krikorian

Nichole Manna, 316-269-6752, @NicholeManna
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