Viral ‘Senior Assassin’ Game Forces 2 Schools Into Lockdown

School interior

Two schools in Long Island, New York's Port Washington district went into lockdown over a viral game called "Senior Assassin."

The local police received reports of an armed person near the schools on Wednesday, June 5, News 12 Long Island reported, but it was a false alarm: The firearm was a squirt gun.

That said, it's not the only community to stoke fear in light of Senior Assassin's popularity.

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What Is 'Senior Assassin'?

Senior Assassin is a viral game among teens, especially high school seniors (hence the name) in which they shoot each other with squirt guns or Nerf guns, and the last student standing without getting hit wins. Think paint ball, but less messy and less organized.

What Are Some Senior Assassin Incidents?

Though it started as a fun game and quasi-prank, Senior Assassin has gotten some students hurt and at least one adult in serious trouble.

This past April in a Chicago suburb, teens entered a restaurant with their toy guns wearing masks and hoodies when a patron with a concealed carry license drew his very real gun on them, according to ABC Chicago. Thankfully no one was hurt, but that's pretty terrifying.

Last spring, a Philadelphia suburb evacuated a sporting event when sightings of kids playing Senior Assassin led to rumors and reports of a person with a firearm in the vicinity.

Things got very ugly in Wichita, Kansas, recently in early June when a man in his late 40s shot a teenage boy with a real handgun after the teen "shot" the man's daughter with a gel blaster toy gun in a game of Senior Assassin. The teen may now be paralyzed, and the man is charged with first degree attempted murder, The Wichita Eagle reports.

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What Risks Does Senior Assassin Pose?

"Students feel that adults are overreacting," Dr. Courtney Conley, adolescent therapist and founder of Expanding Horizons Counseling and Wellness in La Plata, Maryland, says. "I don't think it necessarily makes it more appealing, however, I do think the recent media attention is generating more awareness around the Senior Assassin game. This is likely to increase participation and introduce the concept to new communities."

That said, there are very real risks involved in Senior Assassin, and they may not necessarily be the ones on the top of everyone's minds. According to Dr. Conley, these are the biggest concerns around Senior Assassin:

  • Students are walking around the community armed with fake weapons that have the potential to look real. "Not everyone is aware of or in on the game. It would be very easy for a bystander to misinterpret a senior assassin 'tagging,'" she warns.

  • Students may put themselves in unsafe situations in an attempt to tag their target. "Remember the injuries from people playing Pokémon Go and not paying attention to their surroundings? This is the same concept and has the same potential," Conley advises. "Students may be distracted while driving or so eager to tag their target that they either get injured or cause an injury to another person."

  • These games often include sharing your location and having your Life 360 on. "Having numerous people know your location and little control over how that information is shared poses safety concerns."

  • These types of games have the potential to get out of hand—and they have. "It's easy for a situation to escalate in an unmonitored activity," Conley says. "People can get angry when they get out or feel something wasn't fair. Some Senior Assassin games also have a buy in so the winners receive money. This makes the game a bit more high stakes and some adults place it in the category of gambling."

  • Many people consider it a distraction during a busy and high stakes time of the school year. "Many students are studying for and taking AP exams, finals, etc.," she says. "When senioritis is in full swing, another distraction could be academically damaging."

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How to Keep Your Kids Safe if They Play Senior Assassin

Easy, tiger! Parents, you don't have to be killjoys and ban Senior Assassin entirely. Instead, just make sure parameters are set.

"I believe if the right tone and rules are set, then it should be a fun activity and way to mark the end of your high school career. Most games include 'safety times' such as not being able to tag someone while at work," Conley recommends. "Or if someone has on water wings/swim floaties or goggles, they can't be tagged."

According to ABC Philadelphia, police also recommend using bright colored squirt and Nerf guns that make it obvious they're toys, as to avoid potentially terrifying and deadly outcomes with people carrying real guns (including cops themselves).

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Also, remember that if kids play Senior Assassin off school grounds, there isn't much school systems can do about it, Conley says—so supervise your kids!

"As an adolescent therapist, I have seen this game played out each year for the past few years," Dr. Conley told us. "In all honesty, it is designed to be a fun way to celebrate senior year. If all goes well, there is not much cause for concern. However, we know things can go awry. The best approach is to talk with your child to gain the details of the game and discuss any safety concerns."

In terms of the conversation to have with your kids, be non-judgmental and open, Dr. Conley advises: No jumping down your kids' throat!

"Listen to understand instead of listening to respond. Ask for the rules and details of the game," she says. "Once you have a full understanding of the activity and your child's reasons for wanting to participate, you can then share your concerns around safety and possibly set some additional rules for your individual child. The key is to allow your child to feel heard and understood before jumping in with your concerns and opinions. They will be far more receptive to what you have to say."

And don't forget: Your kid may not even like Senior Assassin. "They may not even want to participate," Dr. Conley points out. "Many students opt out because they don't like the pressure or simply don't want to be bothered."

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