Police have trouble finding shooters, but consequences remainAround 7 p.m. Monday, a Warrenton man walking along Marine Drive in Astoria was shot in the leg with a paintball gun by a group riding in a Jeep.
The next day around 3 p.m. an Astoria man reported someone had hit his house with a paintballs, according to reports by the Astoria Police Department.
These two incidents are repeated nearly every week as vehicles, houses and sometimes people in the area are shot by paintball guns usually aimed by teenagers, police say. But because it often happens at night, and there are frequently no witnesses, catching vandalizing paintballers is a challenge for local law enforcement.
Warrenton Police Sgt. Bart Ellerbroek, who handles the night shift in Warrenton, said the town had a spate of paintball activity during the high school's Homecoming week in October. It's tapered off a little now.
"We've getting about one call per week for cars or buildings," he said. "Luckily there's been no real damage."
Ellerbroek said it has always been a problem, and it's hard to stop even when he catches teenagers out with their guns because of the difficulty in proving who pulled the trigger.
"When I did get a couple of paintball guns, there were eight kids in the vehicle and a couple of paintball guns - so how do you know who did the shooting?" he said.
Powered by pressurized gas, paintball guns shoot plastic balls filled with colored paint at high velocities. Most people use the guns for fun, participating in either paintball clubs or tournaments hosted at areas set up for paintball play.
While the paint is usually designed to wash out, the high speed at which the balls are shot can dent vehicles, bruise skin or seriously injure a person shot in the face, officers say.
If that is the case and a person were to lose an eye, Ellerbroek said the individual who shot the gun could face second- or third-degree felony assault.
"That's what I tell these kids every time I catch them," he said.
That - and having the teenagers' parents pick them up at the police station - is usually enough of a deterrent to stop some from continuing to wreak havoc with their paintball guns, he said.
Astoria Police Sgt. Brian Aydt said without witnesses or a vehicle description, there is hardly anything the police can do to track down those responsible.
"There's not a whole lot you can do with a paintball to track it," he said, explaining the paint washes out and there's really nothing that makes a spent paintball unique.
So even if someone does report their house or car being hit with paintballs, the police can usually do nothing more than take the report for informational purposes.
Aydt also said it was usually teenage boys just driving around causing random trouble, but some girls have been caught with paintball guns.
When people are caught shooting people or property with paintball guns, Aydt said their charges could range from criminal mischief to reckless endangering and assault based on the "totality of factors" involved in the specific incident. If convicted, he said that in addition to their sentences, those found guilty could have their guns taken away.