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DRAPER — To most of the restaurant patrons, it looked like a robbery or worse.
Two boys barged into the Oak Wood Fire Kitchen, 715 E. 12300 South, on Tuesday through a back door, "surprising people inside the restaurant," and began shooting customers at random with toy guns loaded with pellets made of hard gel.
At least one of the people eating in the restaurant at the time was a concealed weapons carrier.
"Luckily, once the suspects started shooting people, (patrons) quickly realized they were not real guns. Prior to being shot with the gel balls, the witnesses believed the suspects had real guns," said Draper Police Lt. Pat Evans.
The shooting at the restaurant was one of several recent incidents of people — mainly teenagers — involved in the latest TikTok challenge. In several states, including Utah, police have received reports of teens using toy guns loaded with pellets made of hard gel to shoot people at random. The trend is known as the "Orbeez Challenge" on TikTok.
"The hashtag #orbeezgun has over 24 million views on TikTok, with multiple videos of people shooting each other with the toy and others showing viewers how to make the gel balls," according to Yahoo. In February, police in Vernal issued a similar warning following pellet gun shootings there. Police in Tooele and Richfield also have warned about the challenge.
On Thursday, Draper police issued a strong warning to both teens and their parents alike.
"In an effort to keep everyone safe, we are taking a zero-tolerance stance on these type of incidents and will hold suspects accountable for their unlawful behavior. More importantly, we plead for parents' help with speaking to their kids about the dangers of pranks and challenges like these," police said in a statement.
Evans added that if the trend continues, it's only a matter of time before a member of the public reacts by returning fire with a real gun, and "It scares us to death."
Among the incidents Draper police have investigated this month:
- On March 4, a group of teens was driving around the parking lot at the Draper Peaks mall, 201 E. 12300 South, shooting gel balls at people at random. That prompted two other people in separate cars to chase after the group, box them in, and then confront them. One man "pointed a handgun at a juvenile's head while demanding the juvenile hand over the gel gun. A woman proceeded to punch one of the juveniles repeatedly in the head. Once the juvenile handed over the gel gun, the man put his gun away and the woman hit and damaged the juvenile's car with the gel gun," police said. As of Thursday, investigators were still trying to identify that man and woman.
- On Tuesday, there were two more incidents of pellet gun shootings, including the incident at Oak Wood Fire Kitchen. The second occurred in the parking lot at Draper Peaks.
- On Wednesday, another two incidents were reported. A woman was shot with gel pellets while walking her dog at Orson Smith Park, 12625 S. Highland Drive. Six teens were identified by police and referred to juvenile court on charges of disorderly conduct. Later that night, a man was shot with a gel pellet while at a store parking lot near 1360 E. Draper Parkway.
Evans said investigators believe more than one group has been involved in the shootings, though in several of the incidents witnesses have spotted teens driving off in a white SUV, possibly either a Chevy Tahoe or Ford Explorer.
Police say they are not looking to charge those involved with any major crimes, but would rather educate them about the potential dangers of shooting unsuspecting people — even if it's only with gel pellets.
"Our goal is to stop it, and hold them accountable," Evans said.
The lieutenant said police have no problem if children want to use the toy guns in a safe environment against each other. But to go after unsuspecting people could have tragic results, and he wants teens to think about the consequences of their actions.
"When these incidents occur, they often frighten innocent people and could provoke a violent response by an unsuspecting victim," he said.