US authorities are investigating a police shooting that claimed a man's life during a so-called "swatting" prank. "Swatting" involves pranksters making hoax 911 calls to get a SWAT team deployed to the victim's house.
An unarmed Kansas man was killed by police at his home in the state's largest city of Wichita after the authorities received a fake call reporting a hostage situation at the house.
"Due to the actions of a prankster we have an innocent victim," Wichita Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston said.
Police played an audio recording of the call, in which a male voice says his father has been killed and claims he is holding his mother and a sibling at gunpoint. The caller adds that he has poured gasoline inside the home "and I might just set it on fire."
The authorities subsequently deployed security forces to surround the Wichita property designated by the caller. One of the people at the house was a man identified by relatives as 28-year-old father of two, Andrew Finch.
Single shot fired
Finch answered the door and was instructed by the police to put his hands up. While he initially obeyed, he at one point moved his hands towards his waistline and backed up. A police officer who was holding Finch at gunpoint fired a single shot, fearing that Finch was reaching for a gun. The shot proved lethal. Finch turned out to be unarmed.
Livingston described the incident as a "tragic" example of a prank called "swatting." The practice has grown in popularity in recent years, with mostly video game players using it to target their rivals during gameplay or streaming sessions. The perpetrators call the police to report violent crimes at the victim's address, trying to provoke the authorities to deploy a SWAT team to their house.
Read more: Video games - a hazard or a help?
On Friday, Deputy Police Chief Livingston did not say that the incident involved video games. However, he said that the investigators were making good progress tracking online leads.
'That cop murdered my son'
The police officer who killed the man was put on paid leave pending investigation.
The mother of the victim, Lisa Finch, decried police actions after the event. Addressing reporters in her home, she said her family was forced outside barefoot and handcuffed in the freezing cold. She also said her granddaughter was forced to step over her dying uncle and that no guns were found in the home. She told the media her son was not a gamer.
"What gives the cops the right to open fire?" she asked. "That cop murdered my son over a false report in the first place."
The FBI believes that around 400 people are "swatted" annually.
dj/tj (AP, dpa)