CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Division of Police is dealing with an uptick in something that should be child's play, but it's no laughing matter.
Innocent victims are randomly being shot from a passing vehicle. The weapon? Water pellet guns.
Water pellet or gel blaster shootings are on the rise, namely on the city’s west side.
"[I'm] scared," Clark-Fulton neighborhood resident Lauren Henn says. "I don't want to be shot with anything."
Two weeks ago, 20-year-old Edward Panza was shot and killed with a gun during what was intended to be a water pellet battle in Tremont. Additionally, in recent months, police in Old Brooklyn and Clark-Fulton have received multiple reports from people shot with water pellets while out walking, riding bikes, or, like Jovan Hughey, simply sitting on the porch.
"He yelled something out the window, and I got hit in the back," Hughey told us, adding a friend who was with him on the porch at the time got shot in the eye. "I got hit like 10 times off of one spray!"
Some blame the viral TikTok "Orbeez Challenge" for the random shootings. Orbeez are tiny water balls that are loaded into airsoft guns, and the "Orbeez Challenge" encourages people to drive around and randomly shoot innocent victims.
"With everything else going on in the world, it's just terrifying," Henn said.
Further south, the beating death of 17-year-old Ethan Liming at LeBron James' I Promise School in Akron last month reportedly happened after Liming and friends shot water pellets at several men playing basketball. Three suspects have been charged with Liming's murder. With names like "Glock 17," "AK47," and "Machine Gun," the toys can also rapid-fire as many as a thousand painful pellets at a time.
"It did sting," Hughey said of his own encounter. "Almost like a pinch, like somebody was pinching you.
The rise in water pellet shootings may not be over anytime soon: Airsoft gun sales reached $1.5 billion 2018, and are on track to hit nearly $2.5 billion by 2025.
Cleveland police in the 2nd district — which covers Tremont, Ohio City, Clark-Fulton, and Old Brooklyn — have started compiling assault reports associated with water pellet guns, looking for any patterns and hoping to make some arrests. However, due to the random nature of the drive-bys, finding the shooters will be difficult.