May 2, 2024 - News

Deal Middle School parents disturbed by toy gun shooting incident

Illustration of a series of successively larger police badges being drawn on a chalkboard.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A group of kids with toy guns allegedly shot soft pellets at students outside Deal Middle School on Wednesday.

The big picture: The incident mirrors a viral TikTok trend known as the "Orbeez Challenge," which in some cases entails users firing gel-like pellets at people via airsoft rifles or toy guns.

Driving the news: Deal went into "alert status" Wednesday afternoon after three "school-aged youth" were discovered near the campus with "toy gel blasters" first thought to be weapons, says an email from Deal Middle School principal Diedre Neal that was shared with Axios.

  • "When officers arrived on scene, the school was safe and nothing was found," a police spokesperson tells Axios.

What they're saying: "People were kind of running and screaming and taking cover," says the parent of a Deal student who was hit by one of the gel pellets and asked to remain anonymous to protect their child. "It felt very real."

  • Several children and at least one adult were struck by the pellets, says the parent.

"At Deal, we highly value and are committed to the safety and security of our school environment," Neal said in her email to school families.

Context: There have been reports across the country linking similar attacks — usually involving teens — to the "Orbeez challenge" since 2022.

  • In some cases, participants have been arrested or charged with battery.
  • Authorities have warned that the rubber pellets can cause injuries, and stoke panic if mistaken for firearms.

Spin Master, the group behind Orbeez, told NPR in 2022, "Children's product safety is paramount at Spin Master, and we are committed to providing children and their families with the highest quality toys, games, and activities. Spin Master does not manufacture or sell gel guns."

  • "Orbeez are designed for educational, creative, and sensory play and are not intended to be used as projectiles or inserted in mechanisms," the group added. Spin Master had not responded to Axios' request for comment at the time of publication.

What we're watching: A congressional bill has been introduced that would ban water beads like Orbeez that are marketed to kids due to health risks, which can include death if swallowed.

Meanwhile, firearm incidents at K-12 schools in the U.S. have jumped more than 300% in the decade ending in 2023, compared to the prior decade.

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