Q: Was a teen sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing a refugee who raped his sister?
A: No. That is a made-up headline on an old internet hoax story.
Facebook users have reported as potentially false several versions of a story with the following grammatically challenged headline: “BREAKING: AMERICAN TEENAGE WHOM KILLED MUSLIM REFUGEE FOR RAPING HIS 7 YEARS OLD SISTER SENTENCED 30 YEARS TO LIFE IN A FEDERAL PRISON. DO YOU SUPPORT THIS?”
Horner’s story was about “swatting,” a prank done by calling in a phony threat that results in a SWAT team descending on the house of the target. Swatting does happen and can have serious consequences. But Horner’s 2014 satirical story claimed that “15-year-old Paul Horner” was “convicted of domestic terrorism” and sentenced to “25 years to life” for a “harmless prank.” Although none of that was true, the story was picked up by at least one technology news website before it was uncovered as a hoax.
Now, parts of Horner’s false story have been posted under the new, unrelated headline about a Muslim refugee.
The websites that posted the new headline use photos from legitimate news reports that have nothing to do with a sexual assault. Multiple versions feature the photo of a 17-year-old boy crying as he was sentenced in 2014 for beating his girlfriend’s toddler to death. Others feature a photo of a SWAT team searching for one of the Boston Marathon bombers in 2013. And some versions include both photos.
Even though both the old story and the new, incendiary headline are false, the latest versions have recently been shared more than 7,000 times on Facebook, and some of the site’s users took the headline seriously. One commenter asked, “Is there a way we can make President Trump aware of this injustice???” Another wrote, “He should be free AND giving him a medal for doing the right thing.”
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
Cooper, Anderson. “Fake news writer: I’m trying to educate people.” CNN. 12 Dec 2016.
“US ‘fake news’ kingpin Paul Horner found dead at 38.” BBC. 27 Sep 2017.
Riggins, Alex, et. al. “UPDATED: Story of Syrian refugees raping Idaho girl is wrong, prosecutor says.” Idaho Statesman. 23 Jun 2016.
Helmore, Edward. “Tyler Barriss, accused of making hoax call, regrets death of ‘swatting’ victim.” The Guardian. 15 Jan 2018.
“15 Year Old Who ‘SWATTED” Gamer Convicted Of Domestic Terrorism; 25 Years To Life In Federal Prison.” NationalReport.com. 30 Aug 2014.
Ducharme, Jamie. “Swatting Led to an Innocent Man’s Death in Kansas. Here’s What to Know About It.” Time. 31 Dec 2017.
Woodard, Chris. “Teen cries out during sentencing.” WIBV News 4. 21 Jan 2014.
Rinaldi, Jessica. Boston Marathon Bomber SWAT photo. Reuters. 19 Apr 2013.