(NEXSTAR) – Police in several parts of the country say they’re seeing increased reports of people inflicting injury to each other — and sometimes children — with toy guns designed to fire gel- or water-based pellets.
Officials also believe the trend may have first gained traction on social media, as part of a “challenge” named after Orbeez, a brand of small absorbent “water beads.”
“We continue to see teenagers … discharging splat ball guns (Orbeez) at other people … even at innocent bystanders,” police in Peachtree City, Georgia, said on Facebook earlier this week. “Now they are modifying the beads to be more painful.”
In its post, Peachtree City police included a photo of a young boy whose face was bloodied as a result of an attack by “a group of teens” who rode by on their bicycles and fired modified gel pellets at the victim.
“The police department will be pursuing criminal charges on all persons caught discharging these weapons at other persons on city property,” police added.
Law enforcement officials in several other cities — including those in Pasco County, Florida, and Pleasanton, California — have also warned residents and school-aged children of the possible dangers that can result from firing gel pellets at others.
“When it comes to actually shooting projectiles at somebody, they do cause welts if it hits you in the face or the eyes,” Timothy Munday, a school resource officer at Myrtle Beach Middle School in South Carolina, told Nexstar’s WBTW. “It can cause major injuries, so you may look at an assault [charge] there. If you bring them on the school grounds, we can interpret them as weapons.”
The manufacturer of Orbeez has since responded to reports of teenagers who may be misusing its water-absorbent beads, which are marketed as “squishy” sensory toys for children ages 5 and up.
“Orbeez are designed for educational, creative, and sensory play and are not intended to be used as projectiles or inserted in mechanisms,” wrote Spin Master, the maker of Orbeez, in a statement shared with NPR.
Spin Master added that it does not manufacture or sell any type of gun designed to fire its beads.
Spin Master, however, is still encouraging its customers to take the “Orbeez challenge” on social media, although the company is merely suggesting that kids show off their Orbeez-based projects or playtime ideas online, rather than pelt each other with the beads.
A representative for TikTok, where some of the videos had been shared, was not immediately available to comment. The platform’s Community Guidelines specifically prohibit videos “depicting, promoting, normalizing or glorifying” dangerous acts, as well as illegal activity and certain amateur stunts.
TikTok also appears to have removed or redirected users from certain videos that showcase the more harmful version of the “#OrbeezChallenge,” but many such videos — with slightly different hashtags including #OrbeezGun or #OrbeeChallenge — remained as of Thursday morning.