TUPELO, MS—At least two northeast Mississippi police departments are seeing an increase in fake or replica guns, as well as real guns.
During March, the Tupelo Police Department has had four reported incidents of juveniles possessing and/or shooting realistic paintball or "splat guns."
"There have been several (TikTok) challenges reported to TPD that encourage juveniles to ambush unsuspecting citizens, such as joggers or people in stores," said Maj. Chuck McDougald. "This is an incredibly dangerous prank. An officer or citizen could easily mistake these replicas as real firearms and defend themselves."
It was just that reason that led West Point Police Department Det. Ramirez Ivy to reach out to the public Monday. His department has seen a rise in juveniles taking toy guns that start off orange — to show they are toys — and painting them black.
"A citizen or an officer could mistake it for a real gun," Ivy said. "When I first saw it, I thought it was one of the guns involved in a recent shooting."
McDougald said there are currently three juveniles charged through Lee County Youth Court where a West Main Walmart shopper was shot with a paintball gun March 15. In a separate incident, a realistic looking paintball gun was seized from two juveniles at the corner of Ida Street and Lawndale Drive.
In addition to the replica and toy guns, both departments are seeing an increase in real guns being used. On Monday, West Point police showed off a 9mm pistol fitted with a high-capacity magazine and a shoulder stock, as well as an AR-15-style rifle. Both weapons were taken from juveniles who are not allowed by law to purchase or possess firearms.
Tupelo police are also working four separate shots fired incidents that all happened within a one-week span.
On March 21, a guest at the Super 8 motel on McCullough Boulevard shot a hole through the room door. That guest was subsequently arrested for discharging a weapon inside the city limits.
A fight among juveniles where a gun was fired was reported at Theron Nichols Park on Mitchell Road on March 24. While several witnesses have been interviewed, there are no suspects or victims so far.
Shell casings were recovered March 25 after shots were fired at 418 South Gloster around 9 p.m. Police responded, but no victims or suspects were located.
It was the same story the next day at the intersection of Ida and Lawndale. There was a report of gunfire. Spent casings were found, but there were no victims or suspects found.
Police are concerned that juveniles with access to firearms will escalate altercations and lead to fatal results.
"The common element in the overwhelming majority of these incidents is that juveniles are gathering to fight or cause damage with real or realistic weapons," McDougald said. "TPD continues to ask all who have influence over our children to help stop this behavior before another senseless tragedy occurs."
Ivy agreed that more oversight is needed from parents.
"We tell parents to be mindful of the children. Speak with your children, even if they are 18 or 19," Ivy said. "Please don't let your child paint (a toy gun) black and make it look real. Let's practice safety all the way down to the toys."
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