Winters Police Department released a social media post on Feb. 16 reporting they had taken reports over the weekend about “drive-by shootings” of pedestrians with Orbeez gels from an airsoft toy gun.
Police departments in Wyoming, California and Utah have released similar statements over the last two weeks citing the actions as a result of a TikTok challenge involving Orbeez brand beads and airsoft guns.
On Feb. 8, The Vernal Police Department in Utah posted a warning to local teens that “a criminal act being acted out as the result of a challenge is a crime and often victimizes people or property.”
Police Chief John P. Miller told the Express that while Orbeez and Orbeez guns are relatively harmless toys, the actions of “pointing what appears to be a gun out of a vehicle and shooting projectiles at pedestrians is absolutely unacceptable and a crime, a violation of Penal Code §246.3(b).”
Following the Feb. 16 social post, additional reports came in to Winters PD. Miller said in addition to the two drive-by incidents, including an incident that happened on the Winter High School campus during the lunch break that resulted in an injury to another juvenile.
“As we started scratching the surface of the two (incidents) that were reported, we found out there were many not reported,” Miller said.
According to Miller, of the three reported incidents, four Winters juveniles have been identified as participants. Miller said their families were contacted and the juveniles were cooperative in the follow-up investigation. The juveniles were referred to the Winters PD’s Youth Diversion Program rather than Yolo County Juvenile Court.
“It’s been going on for a while amongst friends, Miller said. “It escalated when they targeted other people, even though they aren’t a part of the ‘game.’”
Miller said if the “drive-by” incidents continue or escalate to targeting moving vehicles, which is a felony, strict enforcement and subsequent increased penalties will be issued.
“The tipping point is targeting unsuspecting, uninvolved pedestrians, shooting from a moving vehicle, or shooting at a moving vehicle,” Miller said.
Winters PD is asking families of juveniles who have the airsoft, Orbeez guns to be aware of when and how the toys are being used. Miller said while the toys are colored orange and gray, some juveniles are modifying them with all-over color or home-crafted accessories and they can further look like a real gun.
Miller advises individuals who are playing with them to not target people they don’t know, and to use them in a safe environment and to use safety precautions.