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Wheeling police worry as ‘assassins’ game resumes

WHEELING, W.Va. — A game being played by area high school students has law enforcement officials and business owners alike keeping a watchful eye.

Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger is concerned the game called “Assassins” could lead to a real tragedy. In the game, nearly 300 Wheeling-area high school students are sneaking around neighborhoods, hiding in yards and %cars and stalking their targets with water guns that could be mistaken for real weapons. Some are wearing camouflage, masks and bandannas.

The game involves 135 two-person teams of students from Wheeling Park High School, Wheeling Central Catholic High School and The Linsly School.

The teams are assigned another team to target and must hunt their target and squirt them with a water gun, then take a picture of the wet target and post it on social media to show elimination.

The winning team will collect more than $1,300 taken from entry fees from participants. Assigned teams have two weeks to eliminate their target to avoid elimination.

The teams cannot attack their target during school, work, prom or at a sporting event. They cannot break into a house to ambush a target, the guns cannot look like real guns and the police cannot be called.

A glance at the game’s Twitter account – @whgassassins15 – shows a long list of eliminated players, and also conveys various messages, including locations that are off limits. It also provides reminders to players, including one from April 1 that states “GUYS: a door does not have to be locked in order for it to be breaking and entering. that’s the law!!!!”

On Thursday, a group of high school students taking part in the Leadership Wheeling Youth program at the Ogden Newspapers Printing and Technology Center discussed the game with one of The Intelligencer’s editors. They seemed surprised at Schwertfeger’s concerns, with several noting they would be cognizant of them as they played the game.

However, Schwertfeger isn’t the only one taking notice.

“We have received calls for service from people reporting prowlers in their neighborhood,” he said, adding he is more concerned this year because of a substantial increase in residential daylight burglaries in the first quarter.

“The community is on edge,” he said. “And, it obviously presents a potential tragedy.”

Schwertfeger said the game should not deter residents from reporting a potential burglary to police “because they think the person or persons outside may just be the game players.”

He said some of the activity could look like a real breaking and entering or an armed assault and students could easily end up in a dangerous encounter with a police officer or an armed resident wanting to protect their property.

Schwertfeger said he is aware of the allure of the game, as he played it 30 years ago when he was a criminal justice student at a local college.

Mark Thomas, who owns Ye Olde Alpha on Carmel Road, said he also understands the game can be fun. He said he first learned about it from his daughter, who has participated the last few years.

“It intrigued me,” he said. “But I had concerns as a parent.”

Thomas said his daughter explained the game, and he did his own independent research before allowing her to participate.

“We had a discussion about the good, bad and indifferent,” he said. “I don’t want her in trouble with a business, the school or the police.”

Despite his personal views on the game, Thomas said he also has a business with which to be worried. He reached out to the game organizer and asked that the Alpha and its private parking lots be restricted from the game.

“It’s simply a situation where I can’t have this type of game that’s going to permeate my business,” he said. “I have to take every single step to make sure my customers get the experience they’re coming for.”

Additionally, Thomas acknowledged the potentially dangerous situation created by participants “lying in wait” outside the restaurant.

“I don’t want anybody … outside the Alpha at 8 p.m. in … the dark expecting someone to walk out at a certain time,” he said. “They think it’s someone and it isn’t and they scare the living daylights out of them. … Accidents happen, and people could be hurt or have personal property damaged, and we don’t want to be responsible for that.”

Thomas said he and other business owners who have asked to be excluded from the game have had their wishes granted.

“I give them credit, they’ve been good at adhering to the rules,” he said.

Meanwhile, Schwertfeger said little can be done to stop the game, so students should be careful.

“They are not breaking the law,” he said. “I just want them to be smart and think about what they are doing.”

Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna Vargo said the school resource officer has spoken with students about the game.

Sheriff’s Deputy Chad Clatterbuck “has discouraged them to participate. He encourages them to focus on their safety,” Vargo said.

City Editor J.W. Johnson Jr. contributed to this story.

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