By Doug Ireland
---- — LONDONDERRY — With the arrival of spring, police and school officials are concerned Londonderry High School students could get hurt playing the popular target-shooting game Assassins.
That’s what nearly happened last week in Merrimack when a teenager hit another student’s car twice while trying to avoid being hit with a squirt gun.
“We do not endorse it,” Londonderry High School principal Jason Parent said. “Those are the very things we are nervous about.”
Assassins, which can also involve airsoft guns, has been popular in Londonderry for years, but can problematic, according to Parent and Detective Christopher Olson.
Students have escaped serious injury in the past, Parent said, but he believes it’s just a matter of time before someone gets hurt.
Olson agreed and said Assassins can be disruptive.
“It can be a dangerous game,” he said. “We get calls about people running around the neighborhood.”
Olson said his department receives at least a couple of complaints a week in the late spring and summer. Some residents think the toy guns are real, he said.
Students usually pay to participate and are assigned a person they must track down, while avoiding the individual assigned to shoot them. The games can last for days.
Olson and Parent said the participants become easily distracted as they try to dodge their opponents. The players pose a threat to their own safety and that of others, they said. In his 11 years as a Londonderry High administrator, Parent said, there has been at least one serious incident each year. None have occurred on school grounds, where the game is prohibited, he said.
Parent said it is fortunate no one has ever been seriously hurt, but there have been plenty of close calls.
One year, a Londonderry student backed a car into a granite post trying to escape, he said. Another time, a student ran into a school bus safety bar, breaking it.
On one occasion, a student hid in a pile of leaves at a bus stop, waiting for the victim, and could have been struck by the bus, Parent said.
In Merrimack, police issued a warning to high school students about the dangers of playing the game and charged two teens with reckless driving. The game was later called off.
At Londonderry High, Parent said playing the game has been a junior class tradition. Students know they are not allowed to play it on school grounds and respect that rule, he said.
“We are holding our collective breath that no one gets hurt,” Parent said. “These are good kids.”
When there’s an incident involving a student, Parent said, they talk to the individual and the parents.
“All we can do is try to educate the student about the drawbacks,” he said.
Londonderry police also talk to the teens, who often use airsoft guns, Olson said.
The problem is residents become concerned when they seen strangers running through their neighborhood with guns, sometimes even in their own yards.
“It raises a concern that not everyone knows the guns aren’t real,” Olson said.
Four years ago, Londonderry police received a report of a possible break-in near Severance and Elwood Roads. Several officers responded to find two teens playing with squirt guns.
While other local police and school officials say playing Assassins hasn’t been a problem in their towns, some say teens are obviously playing the game. Sanborn Regional High School principal Brian Stack said although students do not play Assassins at school, where it’s not allowed, teens are often overheard talking about the game.
Two students have received warnings this year about bringing squirt guns to school, he said. “It has bubbled up in the past,” Stack said. “I think any high school is susceptible to this.”