A social-media campaign meant to discourage gun violence may have led to the death of a 19-year-old in North Carolina, police said — possibly the first fatality in what some have dubbed the paintball wars.
Zyquarius Shalom Quadre Bradley, 19, of Greensboro, N.C., was shot and killed April 20. His body was found next to a car that was covered in paintball splats, said spokesman Ronald Glenn of the Greensboro Police Department.
"We don't encourage any kind of violence, you know?" he said. "Just because it's paintballs instead of guns does not mean it's safe."
In Milwaukee, about 650 miles to the northwest and double the population, police have responded to 65 reports of people being hit with paintballs in the past five days. That includes two postal workers working on their routes.
► April 27: Detroit police to crack down on citywide 'paintball wars'
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The most recent incident occurred Monday afternoon when a man walking with his caretaker had a paintball hit him in the face during a drive-by-style shooting.
"We are concerned at the frequency of these and that during the nighttime hours somebody's going to mistake these paintball guns for real guns," Milwaukee Police Sgt. Melissa Franckowiak said.
Police believe that the paintball shootings stem from the social-media postings of influential hip-hop artists — in particular Atlanta rapper 21 Savage — who called for people to put down real guns and pick up paintball guns instead.
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So far, no one except Bradley has been seriously injured, but paintballs can travel up to 300 feet per second, Franckowiak said.
The .357 Magnum cartridge in a handgun clocks in at roughly quadruple the velocity, according to GunData.org, a gun review website.
• In Charlotte, police have taken calls on at least 100 paintball shootings in April, more than 150 for the year, including one 2-year-old pelted nine times as she played outside her home, police said. After the girl was cleaned up, welts remained, according to WSOC-TV, Charlotte.
• In Decatur, Ill., eight people were arrested in March for splattering buildings, cars and people during paintball war games they were playing as they drove recklessly on the streets, the Decatur Herald & Review reported.
• In Detroit this past weekend police organized special patrols to crack down on the "paintball wars" after receiving more than 95 complaints about paintball guns within a week.
One Detroit officer saw about 50 people shooting paintball guns. When he turned on his squad car's lights, a 22-year-old shot in his direction, hitting the vehicle.
• In Jacksonville, two men were arrested in mid-April after they shot paintball guns at people and hit vehicles, police reported.
• In Madison, Wis., police arrested a 21-year-old man Sunday and ticketed several teens accused of firing paintball guns from a car and hitting three people downtown, the Madison Wisconsin State Journal reported.
One owner of a paintball park, where people can take out their unresolved hostilities wearing helmets to protect their heads and padding to protect their torsos, is striking back.
“We've gotten hundreds of calls, 100 or 150 a week, people wanting to buy tanks, buy pieces of guns or fill tanks, and we absolutely don’t do that," said Bill Parfitt, owner of Paintball ParaDyes in Charlotte, “We are doing whatever we can to help them out. As far as keeping these off the streets, it doesn’t belong there.”
► August 2013: 3 charged in paintball attack of Hasidic Jewish man
► December 2012: South Dakota teen dies in shooting after paintball argument
The bottom line: The paintball attacks are assaults when people are the targets and oftentimes vandalism when shooters miss and damage property, police said. To make their point, officers will arrest those who participate.
"They actually were walking around like snipers, had the head gear on, the uniforms, the whole nine yards," said Jarrell Pealer of Atlanta, whose front window has a splatter of yellow paint from a paintball battle a couple of weeks ago. "You figure they're just playing and then you hear, 'Toto-toto.' "
Contributing: Alex Shabad, WCNC-TV, Charlotte; Brandon Patterson and Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press; WTLV- and WJXX-TV, Jacksonville; Natisha Lance, WXIA-TV, Atlanta. Jessica Mensch reports for WFMY-TV, Greensboro, N.C.; Ashley Luthern reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Mensch and Luthern on Twitter: @Jessmensch and @luthern