Last Sunday and Monday were wild for the Winona Police Department—and quite a few bemused citizens. Over a few short days, the cops received about 27 reports of random stuff getting shot with paintballs.
The targets, according to the Winona Daily News, included cars, houses, and even a poor bystander who got a nasty welt in her back for their trouble. There was one report of a paintball popping open a window screen. They were all the same paint color: orange.
Paul Bostrack with the Winona Police Department says officers pretty quickly stopped a vehicle with four teenage boys and a bunch of paintballs inside, and that put an end to it. Charges are still pending while officials assess the damage. Most of the paint appears to be washing off pretty easily, but it's not too late to find a dent in a car or a crack in some siding.
Bostrack says it's been a "long time" since Winona's had issues with paintball vandalism—especially in numbers like these. But it wouldn’t be the first paintball crime spree ever to hit the books in Minnesota. Last year, an Austin homecoming celebration went sour when a bunch of high-schoolers decided to pop several vehicles with not only paintballs, but “slime balls, flour, and glitter.”
In 2017, the city of Zimmerman was trying to hunt down whoever splattered three cars with a weird paint that went on purple, but turned a gory red when you tried to wash it off.
In 2016, seven Hastings-area teenagers polka-dotted the windows of 24 different businesses in a five-block radius, just in time for the Christmas shopping rush.
None of the damage was too serious, but it can be. The most famous series of incidents in recent memory happened across several states last year, after a social media campaign intended to discourage gun violence urged youth to put down real guns and pick up paintball guns instead. Promoters included popular hip-hop artists, including Atlanta rapper 21 Savage.
At first, the usual stories cropped up. Police responded to more than 100 paintball shootings over the course of a month in Charlotte, and eight people were arrested in Decatur for turning countless buildings and cars into Jackson Pollocks.
But then, a North Carolina 19-year-old named Zyquarius Shalom Quadre Bradley was shot and killed. His body was found next to a car covered in “paintball splats.” Onlookers feared paintball conflicts were ending in standoffs with real bullets.
The absolute nadir of the paintball wars occurred on Easter night, when a 3-year-old was riding in his mom’s SUV while a paintball fight raged nearby. Eventually, a real gunshot rang out and the boy was shot in the chest. 21 Savage, who happened to be a family friend, paid for his funeral.
If nothing else, these stories are reminders that even playful violence can get out of hand. After all, Bostrack warns, it's easy enough to hit an eye or an ear on accident, and there's no telling how things can escalate from there.
"Those things can be dangerous," he said.
After the Winona Daily News posted the story about its recent rash of paintball vandalism, a Facebook commenter swore that if he’d been the one to get hit, he’d “shoot back,” but he’d be “doing more damage.”