With Halloween just around the corner, a new, colorful form of criminal mischief has arrived in the Elm City: paintball shootings.
At least seven Yale students have reported being assaulted by paintball guns on or near campus in the past two weeks. The incidents have prompted the Yale Police Department to coordinate with New Haven Police Department district managers to increase and overlap patrols. YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins said his department is looking into whether the on-campus assaults are connected to a separate incident earlier this month, when the NHPD arrested two men for firing paintball guns at plainclothes police officers in the Hill neighborhood. The paintball shootings have also led some students to rethink their safety on campus.
“We just heard shots and next thing I knew, I was hit in the face,” said Naomi Schwartzburt ’24. “I felt my face, looked down and saw there was green paint on my hand. Honestly, I was more relieved than anything that it was just a paintball.”
Schwartzburt told the News that she and her suitemate, Maia Decker ’24, were walking by Phelps Gate on Oct. 14 at around 7 p.m. when Schwartzburt was struck on the cheek. She said the shot gave her a concussion and hindered her ability to complete schoolwork. At the time, Schwartzburt said the YPD deferred her case to the NHPD because it was considered a “non-Yale matter.”
University spokesperson Karen Peart addressed the YPD deferral of the Oct. 14 paintball shooting to NHPD. Peart said that YPD does not have information on such a report but takes these incidents seriously and is looking into it.
On the same day that Schwartzburt was hit, another Yale first year was also struck by a paintball while she was walking between Elm and College streets. The student, who asked to remain anonymous, was hit on the collarbone by someone in a dark vehicle –– also at around 7 p.m.
“This experience has definitely made me rethink about walking around in the early evening, which I used to think was relatively safe,” said the student. “I’m a bit more paranoid when I have to be out at night, and I often try to stand close to the buildings so that no cars can see me.”
Both first years were hit nearly a week before Higgins sent an email to the Yale Community last Tuesday reporting that a graduate student was struck by a paintball on their backpack. According to Higgins’ email, the graduate student was walking down Whitney Avenue when a dark-colored SUV pulled alongside them and fired out of the window.
Two days later, a similarly described dark SUV shot another graduate student in the vicinity of Prospect and Edward streets. This time, the student was struck in the torso and leg.
The latest reported Yale-related paintball gun assault occurred on Friday night, as three undergraduate students were struck while walking down Whalley Avenue.
Higgins told the News that criminal mischief tends to increase at this time of year and typically involves damage to private property. He said that while he hopes the paintball incidents will decline after Halloween, the assaults may be part of a pattern of crime started earlier this month.
“We are concerned that the incidents involving paintball guns are increasing and are becoming more serious as they target people in the community,” Higgins said in an email to the News. “We are unaware if the assaults earlier this month are related to the two we’ve alerted the community on this week; however, they [bear] resemblance.”
According to a press release from the NHPD on Oct. 5, two New Haven men were arrested after shooting plainclothes officers with paintball guns in the Hill. The 20- and 23-year-olds were released on a $350,000 bond and are set to appear in New Haven Superior Court on Nov. 24.
Since then, Lieutenant Elliot Rosa said, the NHPD has confiscated 9 paintball guns and is planning to serve a warrant for a vehicle that has been involved in some of the attacks. The NHPD has also made several arrests in connection with the paintball attacks, he said, without specifying the number of arrests. Rosa did not respond to multiple requests for comment about that number.
Lieutenant Elliot Rosa of the NHPD described the incidents across New Haven as “crimes of opportunity.” He said that these shooters have no primary motive and have not singled out any groups to attack, but have randomly chosen to target inattentive pedestrians.
“Some of the incidents are related and we do have some incidents where the same vehicle is involved, however, we’ve had arrests throughout the city,” Rosa said. “It’s almost like years ago, it used to be egging. Kids used to drive around and throw eggs at one another — I guess the new fad is paintballs and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Rosa also said that NHPD has received many reports over the years of “paintball wars,” typically involving teenagers, and that these have resulted in minor injuries. According to the Register, a 2017 street “paintball gun war” in Newhallville led to the injury of a 10-year-old girl. Rosa stressed that a paintball to the eye can result in serious injury.
Not every paintball victim is convinced by Rosa’s claim that the shooters lack a motive. Perick Appo, an organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción, was assaulted as he biked to his work on Howard Avenue at 4 p.m. last Wednesday. He said a dark gray SUV with four passengers pulled up beside him as he came to a stop at a traffic light at George and Howe. Then, the occupants rolled down one of the car windows, pulled out a paintball gun, and shot him in the torso.
Appo, who is Mexican, said that he heard the four teenagers call him racial slurs.
“I don’t feel like they should go to jail, but come on guys.” Appo told the News. “Go and learn about sharing the community with other people like immigrants and Mexicans and learn about what we are doing — my thing is we’ve been targeted by lots of communities because we don’t have papers and we don’t call the police.”
While Appo said he did not believe the teenagers should be sentenced to jail time, he said they should acknowledge the potentially deadly nature of their actions. Appo explained that the situation could have been much worse if he was injured.
Federal law requires all toy guns to have an orange tip so that police officers and residents can distinguish between toys and real guns. However, paintball guns are exempt from this requirement.
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Update, Oct. 27: This article has been updated to include comment from University spokeswoman Karen Peart that provides additional context surrounding the Oct. 14 paintball incident.