Essex OPP investigating after youth shot with airsoft gun at Optimist Club dance

·4 min read
Essex OPP are investigating after a youth allegedly shot others with an airsoft gun at an Optimist Club dance on Friday. (Canadian Press - image credit)
Essex OPP are investigating after a youth allegedly shot others with an airsoft gun at an Optimist Club dance on Friday. (Canadian Press - image credit)

Essex OPP are investigating after youth attending a dance hosted by a volunteer organization last week were shot with an airsoft gun that had been brought into the event.

Police said they were called to the Essex Sports Complex just after 9 p.m. with reports of someone bringing a weapon to the dance, which was attended by about 200 youth in grades five to eight.

Responding officers did locate the youth, and the investigation is ongoing.

Marlene Phillips, who was a volunteer at the dance, said a group of youth made an "orchestrated" attempt to disrupt the dance, which was the first one held by the Optimists Club since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Everybody was excited to be there, and we ended up with a couple of groups of boys and a young lady that came, in my opinion, the express intent of disrupting the evening," Phillips told CBC Windsor on Monday.

OPP confirmed Monday one youth had brought an airsoft gun — which fires plastic pellets — to the dance.

Phillips said the youth had reportedly asked others for pay him to shoot specific people at the dance.

'Kids were pretty scared'

"A bunch of them would be diverting the volunteers from one part of the room, and so then this other stuff could go on at the other part of the room," Phillips said. "It was pretty well-orchestrated from my perspective."

Phillips said the youth shot at least two other students, and volunteers had difficulty identifying the youth with the airsoft gun at first.

However, with information from other attendees, volunteers were able to identify the youth, who was brought outside. When Phillips asked him to turn over the airsoft gun, however, the youth refused and fled.

"We called the police," she said. "The police attended and found the kid eventually. But in the meantime, a lot of kids were pretty scared."

"Once the troublemakers were removed from the room, it was really quite interesting what happened, because the remaining kids just kind of settled down and got into a dance."

"The music was playing and the kids were dancing and having a good time," Phillips said. "But that was after we had the trouble removed."

Phillips said the Essex Optimist Club has been hosting these youth dances for 20 years, and nothing like Friday's incident had happened before.

"Kids are responsible for their own behaviour at that age," she said. "They know the difference between right and wrong, and there were a great number of kids in that room that knew it was unacceptable and were doing their best to help us figure out who it was."

"There were some really good kids in that room."

Phillips said there were two loose groups of four or five boys, along with one girl who was "kind of bouncing back and forth between the two groups," that were causing the problems.

Essex Coun. Sherry Bondy, who posted a lengthy message about the dance on social media, said she has "zero tolerance" for behaviour like that exhibited by some youth at Friday's dance.

"There's got to be some consequences," she said. "I know the school boards are involved and now the town council is involved."

Bondy said she spoke with parents of some youth who attended the dance over the weekend, who said driving to get their children "was the most terrifying 10 minutes of their life."

"It wasn't known right at the beginning what type of gun was was in the facility," Bondy said. "They were thinking that some of their children are going to have anxiety, perhaps post-traumatic stress disorder."

"I'm afraid our students aren't going to feel safe in the community, and as a councillor, that's the last thing I want."

June dance cancelled

Phillips said the Optimist Club has cancelled its June youth dance, and is uncertain if it will host any more dances at all.

But if more dances do take place, they will be different.

"We had discussed in previous years doing parent consent forms, but logistically, this is a bunch of kids coming in from schools all over the county," she said. "It's usually one parent dropping off five or six kids. How do you get one parent to sign authorizations and everything for five kids who don't belong to them?"

"We may end up having to have a pre-authorized list after conversation with the parents," she said. "And if the parents haven't had the conversation with us, then we wouldn't be able to let them in. Those are just two ideas that are kind of running around."

Anyone with information is asked to contact OPP or Crime Stoppers.

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