Why paintball attacks appear to be rampant in Charlotte
Joshua Stinson was riding his bike down South Tryon Street after leaving a late shift at work, when a burning feeling pierced his back.
He turned and saw a black car with tinted windows. It tailgated so close to his bike, the front bumper grazed his back tire.
Six more stings followed — in his legs, neck and back.
“I looked down and it was orange, yellow and blue paintball shots,” he said.
Someone in the car had shot Stinson seven times with a paintball gun. There were no other cars around, and no pedestrians walking the streets at 3 a.m., when the assault happened.
The car sped off and turned on a nearby road, leaving Stinson alone and confused.
“Who goes around the city hitting people with paintball guns?” he asked.
In recent months? A lot of people.
From the beginning of the year to mid-May, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police logged 109 police reports from people like Stinson who were victims of paintball-related assaults and vandalism.
Nearly 70 of those police reports — about 64 percent — were filed in April, as the city saw a spike in the crimes. Police arrested 13 people by mid-May, typically on charges for assault or damage to property. The crimes decreased in May, with only 29 police reports filed in the first 20 days of the month.
The guns, which use carbon dioxide or pressurized air to fire paint-filled capsules, are used on commercial fields in sport. The paintballs zip through the air at speeds of up to 300 feet per second, and can leave welts and scars on bare skin.
Police aren't sure what was behind the increase in Charlotte. But paintball assaults in cities including Atlanta, Milwaukee and Greensboro made national news.
Police officials in Atlanta and Milwaukee both cited online videos made by Atlanta-based rapper, 21 Savage, that they said encouraged people to set aside real guns and use paintballs instead. But it "kind of morphed into something other than what he anticipated," Milwaukee Sgt. Melissa Franckowiak said, according to TV Station WISN, after a bicyclist was shot in the eye with a paintball, just hours after police warned the public about a recent spike in similar attacks.
A representative for 21 Savage did not respond to requests for comment.
Charlotte police don't have an explanation for Charlotte's recent paintball shootings, but department officials are concerned that if the shootings aren't controlled, tensions could escalate, police spokesman Rob Tufano said.
“I don’t think that’s a big leap at all to concern ourselves that somebody’s going to mistake one of these toys or paintball guns for a real thing,” Tufano said. “There could be some real bad consequences that come of it.”
A Charlotte paintball encounter did almost turn deadly.
A man who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said he was driving near Interstate 77 one night in late April, when someone in another car began to shoot at his 1998 Toyota Corolla.
The man, a licensed gun owner, reached for his handgun.
The only reason he didn’t fire his weapon, he said, is because the car sped onto the interstate before he could get the chance.
It took him a few moments to realize it was paint fired at his car, not real bullets, he said.
“These kids, or whoever they are, they’re going to get killed,” the man warned.
In east Charlotte, a pair of barbers want to prevent that from happening.
Mason Ivan Sr., a barber at Custom Cuts, was trimming a customer’s hair one afternoon in mid-April, when three men wearing masks came into the barbershop toting paintball guns.
The trio didn’t say a word as they stood in the doorway. They fired toward the shop's back wall, splattering it with color.
“It probably happened in 20 seconds,” Ivan said. “Before you had time to really think, it was over.”
Ivan and shop owner Ray Gill said they want to help youth get to a paintball field, instead of using the guns on the streets, where it could end in violence.
On commercial fields, players wear proper safety equipment and can shoot at each other in organized, regulated games.
Gill, who regularly goes to paintball fields, said he sees a trip to a paintball field as a positive resolution to the paintball crimes.
“You gotta do it the right way,” he said. “You gotta do it with people that’s playing. You can’t just do it with innocent people.”