An off-duty New York City corrections officer has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old man — an incident where a toy gun used in a TikTok trend may have played a role in his death.
Officers responded around 1:35 a.m. Thursday to a call about a shooting in the area of Grand Concourse and East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. They found Raymond Chaluisant unconscious with a gunshot wound to his face, New York City police said.
He was taken to Saint Barnabas Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
It was determined that he was shot on the southeast corner of the Cross Bronx Expressway and Morris Avenue, about a half mile from where he was found, and one shell casing was discovered at the site, police said.
The corrections officer, Dion Middleton, 45, was arrested on charges of murder, manslaughter and criminal possession of a weapon in connection with the shooting, police said.
Lawyer information for Middleton was not immediately available.
Middleton was hired by the city's Department of Correction in January 2013 and was assigned to the Correction Academy firing range, officials said.
Department of Correction Commissioner Louis A. Molina said Middleton will be immediately suspended without pay, and "if the charges are true he will face the full consequences of the law and be terminated.”
“These very serious charges are in no way a reflection of the officers who work to keep our city safe every day," he added.
Law enforcement sources told NBC New York one angle in the investigation is the toy "Orbeez" gun Chaluisant had in his car.
So far in the investigation, there’s no evidence Chaluisant fired it at Middleton, the news station reported.
Cases involving the toy guns have cropped up across the U.S., with law enforcement agencies linking their use to a TikTok trend known as the “Orbeez Challenge.” Some videos on the social media platform depict people shooting gel Orbeez balls at citizens with bead blasters or water pellet guns. Orbeez balls can grow more than 150 times their size when submerged in water, according to their Amazon page.
Many TikTok videos with the hashtag "orbeezchallenge" showed people playing with Orbeez in recreational activities like filling a swimming pool and watching the small orbs expand in water, but only a handful of posts appeared to show people using toy guns to fire Orbeez at others.
As of Friday morning, the hashtag “orbeezchallenge” appeared to be disabled in TikTok’s search. However, the hashtag still exists with more than 182 million views. Several other hashtags with slight spelling differences also have garnered millions of views.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Hours after the shooting, New York City police shared a warning about bead blasters guns Thursday evening, calling them an air rifle as they shoot gel water beads propelled by a spring-loaded air pump.
“Air rifles are a violation in NYC & are unlawful to possess,” the department said.
Violators found with such toy guns will be issued criminal summons and the weapons will be confiscated, according to police.
Incidents involving toy guns firing gel or water beads have led to arrests across the nation.
Last month, Ohio high school senior Ethan Liming was beaten to death after he and his friends were in a car shooting a SplatRBall Water Bead Blaster gel gun “at objects and possibly unsuspecting people,” police said.
Akron police Chief Stephen Mylett was asked if Liming was participating in the Orbeez challenge, but he did not directly address the trend.
In Florida, a 17-year-old high school student was hit with a felony charge in March after deputies said he shot a school employee in the face from his car. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, which handled the investigation, shared a warning about the “Orbeez challenge” and reported at least five arrests related to the trend.
Meanwhile in Utah, Draper police said in June at least six teens had been arrested in connection with incidents involving Orbeez guns. The department also warned about the “Orbeez Challenge” saying, “When these incidents occur, they often frighten innocent people and could provoke a violent response by an unsuspecting victim.”