“Two years of the pandemic have made these kids feral,” said a Mammoth educator regarding a recent violent event that landed a local man in the hospital.
The incident involved eleven adolescents aged 14 to 17, and showcases the true insidious nature of social media on young minds, and the ongoing escalation of unrest and violence among young people across the country.
On the evening of Sunday, May 22, 2022 – less than two days before the school shooting massacre carried out by an 18-year old at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas – an altercation occurred in Mammoth involving juveniles and airsoft guns.
The altercation escalated to the point where the group beat a man (who had come outside to object to the ruckus) unconscious while recording a video of the beating. The 28-year old man was sent to the hospital with major injuries, including head lacerations.
The group of teenagers were following a new TikTok trend called the #OrbeezChallenge, which encourages kids to fill airsoft guns with Orbeez gel balls and shoot each other. Orbeez are superabsorbent polymers that grow to 100 times their original size when submerged in water. They absorb liquids, and a version of Orbeez are used in diapers to keep them dry. They have recently been marketed as colorful toys for children.
The balls can cause severe injuries when used as airsoft gun ammo. In addition, airsoft guns often resemble real firearms, which can cause community unrest and panic – especially in light of the recent increase in gun violence across the country.
Mammoth Lakes Police received multiple calls on the evening of May 22 about a group of juveniles seen with these weapons at the Horizons 4 Condo complex on Azimuth Drive, conducting the TikTok challenge. Some of the Orbeez balls had allegedly been frozen and were pinging off cars, creating potential property damage.
At around 9:30 p.m., a 28-year-old Mammoth Lakes man approached the group of teenagers in his pajamas and asked them to stop firing their airsoft guns. This led to an argument that turned physical; the man allegedly reached for one of the guns dropped by a child, and, during a “Lord of The Flies” moment, the group of juveniles swarmed the man and began to beat and shoot him.
The man was subsequently transported to Mammoth Hospital with major injuries from both the beads as well as punches and kicks.
The event comes after a recent string of property vandalization in Mammoth Lakes. On Tuesday, May 17, four juveniles were detained after officers witnessed three of them drawing graffiti on the walls of the tunnel at Mammoth Creek Park. This group of juveniles is confirmed to be a different group than those involved in the beating.
The Mammoth Lakes Police Instagram page posted the press release regarding the incident. Some of the comments on the post from Mammoth residents included:
-“What the flock is this world coming to? This is why social media can be so dangerous to kids.”
– “So you’re telling me a super citizen adult got beat up over some kids playing and shooting their friends with harmless gel balls?”
– “They’re gonna end up shooting at the wrong person who has a CCW and then it’s game over. Someone needs to implode TikTok so they get rid of all these stupid challenges”
– “No, nothing will be done, it will be left in the hands of the parents who allow their children to play with guns without knowledge of safety. Just like the graffiti in the bridge. We live in a world where you can literally get away with murder. Next these kids will be shooting up the school and it will get blamed on guns!!!!! Parents need to learn how to parent and discipline kids. Bring back the leather belt, time-outs don’t work.”
– “The 28 year old adult should’ve never let it escalate to the point that got him beat up by juveniles.”
– “You guys should do real police work and not be fun nazis”
– “Parents are the problem…but also the solution. Trying times.”
– “Dear MLPD. Are you arresting the thugs that beat the 28 year old up? Asking for a friend. Go soft on them and look what happens when they turn 18. Those airsofts turn into real ARs. Come on guys; wake up.”
Following the attack, Mammoth Lakes Police (MLPD) went to both Mammoth Middle School and High School to gather information. After interviewing the eleven juvenile suspects involved, they identified five as suspects. These five were given warrants of some kind. The other six walked away clean.
Meanwhile, all eleven are still attending school. None have been suspended.
“We investigated, gathered information and then forwarded everything we found to Mono County Juvenile Probation and the D.A.’s Office. That’s where our job ends,” said MLPD spokesperson Christina Ackerman. “None of these incidents actually occurred while school was in session, therefore there are no repercussions involving school at all. There’s nothing we can do about that. If it had happened during school, this would obviously be a different story.”
School Resource Officer Daniel Hansen, the cop running the investigation, had a few comments to make regarding the declining mental health of Mammoth’s adolescent population.
“I think Covid created a lot of issues with juveniles; staying at home and being attached to cell phones, iPads and computers constantly created a lot of mental health issues. Kids wanted to be at school, in classrooms socializing with their friends, and instead they were locked up. Are kids acting out and am I seeing more issues with juveniles since Covid? Yeah. I think it’s escalating … even as a Resource Officer (SRO), it was challenging for me trying to deal with those issues, trying to encourage kids to see the light at the end of the tunnel, that things are going to get better,” said Hansen. “I think that the period of lockdown just shut down a lot of these kids. They weren’t able to go out and have a normal life, and I think that caused some true damage. It’s going to take a lot of time to get them back into some normalcy.”
Increased unrest and violence among teenagers following Covid-19 has become a national trend.
In August of 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported that schools across the country saw an increase in disruptive behavior among students returning to the classroom following the pandemic’s shutdown, including more outbursts, violent behavior, and apathy towards their education.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents jumped 31% in 2020, compared to 2019.
Almost 20% of the 7,005 teenagers surveyed by the CDC during the first six months of 2021 said they had seriously considered suicide in the 12 months before the survey.
Teens who felt connected at school were less likely to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, the survey showed.
But, the report also noted that only 47% actually felt connected to people at school.
The Mammoth Unified School District says that it urges parents to talk to their children about the harms and dangers of firearms. But was it the firearms that led to eleven children beating a man nearly to death, or was there a much larger, deeper motivator at hand?
As Simon concludes in The Lord of The Flies: “Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”
MLPD asks that any witnesses or people with any additional information regarding the incident reach out to officer Daniel Hansen directly at (760) 965-3703.