TikTok Orbeez Challenge: While catching up with some classmates at school on Tuesday morning, North Carolina ninth-grader Andrea Alonso suddenly felt an intense pain in her eye.
“She was talking to her friends at the school door, and she felt that something hit her,” Andrea’s mother, Ana Rosa Alonso, told The Daily Beast.
After Andrea called her in a panic, Alonso rushed to Olympic High School in Charlotte and found the school nurse preparing her daughter to be taken to the hospital.
“It was very scary,” Alonso recalled. “I was shaking because I didn’t know what the damage was. She told me it was in her eye, so I was thinking something really bad, like she could lose her eye.”
“It,” in this case, was an Orbeez pellet.
“Squishy and smooth, kids and adults alike will love the soothing sensory experience of Orbeez!” Spin Master Ltd., the company behind Orbeez, explains on its website. “There’s no limit to the ways you can play. Explode them, squish them, squeeze them, bounce them, crush them or let them flow through your hands! Use your imagination and have endless amounts of fun with Orbeez!”
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The official description sounds innocuous enough. But the polymer beads also play a central role in a viral social media trend popular among teens and have caused serious injuries across the country. The so-called Orbeez Challenge—which may or may not have emerged on TikTok—involves loading airguns with the gel-filled pellets and firing them at strangers. The resulting videos are subsequently posted on platforms like TikTok and YouTube, where they have racked up millions of views. In certain instances, cops say kids freeze the beads, which makes them harder and more damaging, potentially leading to severe eye injuries, puncture wounds, and costly property damage.
Even if the pellets do not cause serious damage, using an airgun—which are sometimes painted or modified to look like real guns, according to police—could easily get the user killed.
“Most definitely,” retired NYPD Det. Sgt. Joseph Giacalone, who now teaches at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told The Daily Beast. “People are carrying firearms all over nowadays.”
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Orbeez shootings are occurring nationwide, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Claudio Jimenez told local outlet WSOC, which first reported on the incident at Olympic High.
In Dearborn, Michigan, police on Monday arrested a teenager on assault charges after allegedly shooting Orbeez at a bystander. The target’s injuries are unknown, but cops warned the beads “can cause potentially severe injuries to sensitive areas of the body.”
In Salt Lake City, Utah, six teens were arrested after they walked into a restaurant wearing masks and started shooting. One woman, who was hit in the back of the head with a pellet while running away, said she didn’t realize the weapons were loaded with Orbeez and thought she was being shot at with real guns.
In Middletown, New York, cops arrested three teens after they allegedly pulled off a series of drive-by shootings using Orbeez pellets, firing from their car windows on groups of unwitting pedestrians.
Last week, four Pennsylvania teens were arrested for attacking students and faculty members outside a Radnor Township middle school. They are now facing charges of possessing instruments of a crime, disorderly conduct, harassment, and recklessly endangerment. In some states, things have reached the point where towns are banning all toy guns and water blasters from municipal parks. Earlier this month, a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old in Mason, Ohio were arrested and charged with inducing panic after firing Orbeez at a school bus.
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In New Smyrna Beach, Florida, a 17-year-old high school student was charged with battery on a school employee, a felony, for allegedly shooting a campus adviser with Orbeez from his vehicle, striking the unnamed victim several times in the face.
The incident followed similar arrests in the area, one of which involved a 19-year-old accused of randomly shooting an Amazon driver in the glasses and neck as he steered his truck down a suburban street. Another adult and a child in a stroller were also shot at the same day. Another person in the area was shot in the back while doing yard work, the pellets breaking their skin and leaving painful red welts, according to police.
Dozens more Orbeez shootings have been reported in numerous U.S. states in recent weeks.
“Parents: This has gotten out of hand,” police in Peachtree City, Georgia said in a recent online posting. “We continue to see teenagers utilizing the cart path while discharging splat ball guns (Orbeez) at other people on the cart path, even at innocent bystanders. Now they are modifying the beads to be more painful.”
To drive the point home, Peachtree City cops shared a photo of a young boy who was shot and injured in an Orbeez attack while riding his bike.
“The police department will be pursuing criminal charges on all persons caught discharging these weapons at other persons on city property,” authorities announced. “In some cases, it could result in felony charges and parents could also be liable for the actions of their kids.”
This is something that Ana Rosa Alonso would like to see happen, she told The Daily Beast.
“The school knows who it was,” she said. “I think he’s facing charges from the school officer, but I don’t think it’ll be big charges—they told me something about a juvenile arrest to be released to his parents.”
Alonso said that she is considering looking into how to press more severe criminal charges against Andrea’s attacker.
“I don’t know if the parents will be willing to pay the medical bills for my daughter,” she continued. “She doesn’t deserve to have an injury and this guy has to think about what he’s doing. And the parents have to be responsible for their kids’ actions, because this is not right.”
Thankfully, doctors were able to save Andrea’s eye, Alonso said.
“She doesn’t need surgery,” she said. “She still has blurry vision, the light bothers her, but she’ll be OK, that’s what the doctor said.”