Police warn latest TikTok challenge ‘could lead to a lethal force issue’ in Lehigh Valley

Written by on July 6, 2022

Police warn latest TikTok challenge ‘could lead to a lethal force issue’ in Lehigh Valley

By Stephanie Sigafoos
July 6, 2022

The Allentown Parking Authority captured video of the “Orbeez Challenge” taking place in the city. The face of the man in the center of the frame has been blurred. (Contributed Photo | Allentown Parking Authority)

Law enforcement officials in the Lehigh Valley are repeating a familiar refrain when it comes to the latest social media challenge making headlines — it’s dangerous and could lead to a tragic outcome.

Allentown police warn there have been several incidents of people being shot at random with gel blaster toy guns as part of a trend on TikTok known as the “Orbeez Challenge.”

As part of the challenge, people are shooting water-absorbent polymer beads at pedestrians and bystanders.

“This is a social media trend that’s occurring here and throughout the nation, and it is something that we are taking very seriously,” Allentown Police Chief Charles Roca said Wednesday.

A still frame from a dashcam video captured by the Allentown Parking Authority shows why. It shows a man on North Fifth Street pointing a toy gun that resembles a real automatic weapon. He’s aiming at a car to his right, where at least four white and orange guns are pointed in his direction through the front and back windows of the moving vehicle.

That’s a huge issue, said state police Trooper Nathan Branosky, a spokesman for Troop M covering Lehigh, Northampton and Bucks counties.

“Fortunately, here within our coverage area, we haven’t had calls of this nature,” Branosky said Wednesday. “However, these are very dangerous [incidents] that I’ve read about that. There’s a number of factors that are taking place that first of all, someone could be injured by these gel pellets if they were struck in the eye or struck in an extremity, it could cause serious damage.

“In addition, as a police officer, you have to make a split-second decision many times. And when you see someone point a gun or a replica of a gun, that could lead to a lethal force issue. And that’s certainly not what the police want to use. But this is a very, very dangerous social media event that’s being led here with this challenge.”

In a Facebook group dedicated to issues and discussions for Allentown city residents, people reported “grown men” hiding behind cars shooting at one another. One woman commented that she was hit by one of the gel pellets while she was walking with her son to the gas station.

Roca confirmed the Allentown Police Department was investigating several incidents reported in the city, and said people engaged in this type of behavior could face legal charges.

“In some instances, some of the people are deciding to spray-paint the guns to appear real,” Roca said. “When an officer comes on scene at that point, they must determine the best course of action and that’s done in a very quick manner. So, it’s important that the people involved in this think again before they engage in this activity.”

Roca also encouraged Allentown residents to consider safe locations if they choose to use toy guns for outdoor fun.

“The gun itself is typically painted in bright colors,” he said. “They’re typically white or orange or other bright colors they have out there … almost like a Nerf gun. If they use it, they should use it in an open field where they can engage in this type of activity where it’s safe to do so and it doesn’t cause alarm or annoyance to the public.

“I don’t want to criminalize fun. We’re not the fun police,” Roca added, but also suggested youth recreational programs and activities like the Allentown Summer Playground Program as alternatives for entertainment this summer.

Branosky offered similar advice.

“If you’re going to utilize this toy, utilize it per the manufacturer’s instructions,” Branosky said. “Use eyewear, use it in an area … not so much in public where someone could be alarmed by it. Have a first-aid kit but utilize the manufacturer’s instructions and don’t deviate from that. Certainly, if this is something that you want to utilize you can, but do it in the safest manner possible.”

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