Barrington High parent: LGBTQ students targeted in TikTok-inspired attack
Police and Barrington Unit District 220 school officials are investigating reports that two students who are members of Barrington High School's LGBTQ community were attacked with pellet guns in a TikTok challenge last week.
But the mom of one of the victims said Sunday that the school didn't do enough, while her transgender son said he has suffered relentless bullying.
Junior Matt Petersen, a 17-year-old transgender student, said he and his boyfriend were shot Wednesday morning with pellets from a toy gun in the Barrington High School parking lot.
Barrington Police Chief Dave Dorn said in an email that the case is currently under investigation.
Barrington High School Principal Steve McWilliams emailed parents and guardians about Wednesday's incident, saying some students participated in an "Orbeez" TikTok challenge, in which teens shoot toy beads at each other with toy guns. Orbeez is a manufacturer of the toy beads.
In a conversation Sunday with Petersen and his mom, Kristin Stedman, at their Barrington home, Petersen said, "Me and my boyfriend were just walking into school, as we usually do, because I procrastinate going to school. We're usually late every day. It was probably a couple of minutes after the bell rang, and we're about to enter the front."
Then, he said, "A group of kids came out of their car from the front side lot and (one) started shooting us with air soft rifles. One of them shot my boyfriend in the head, but they were they were spraying bullets at us."
Stedman said that when the boyfriend was hit, "It broke his skin and left a pretty good-sized welt."
Stedman described the pellets as "little round, orange BB-type things."
Petersen said he and his boyfriend ran away from the shooters, who followed them into the building and cafeteria.
"They didn't leave us alone until I had gotten my breakfast and I started heading to class," he said.
"I started crying in class because I didn't know what to do," he said, before texting his mom.
Stedman said she called a dean who has been watching out for Matt, because he has been suffering from constant bullying, but received a voicemail prompt. She then called another school official, who told her some kids were doing a TikTok challenge with Nerf guns.
"He was real nonchalant about it," she said. "They didn't see the weapon. They didn't have the weapon. They didn't know where the weapon was. He was just assuming it was a Nerf gun."
Stedman asked school officials that day what was being done and was told they were still figuring things out, with one telling her, "This isn't Las Vegas. We don't have the greatest camera system."
Stedman, who refers to her son and his boyfriend as "my kids," said this was more than a TikTok challenge. She believes the two were targeted.
"The school is trying to say that, 'No, it's not a hate crime. It was just kids being kids and doing a TikTok challenge.' But it almost feels to me like they were sitting there waiting for my kids to walk by, because my kids were late to school anyway, so why are they still sitting out there, if the school bell has already rang? And it's not like there was a plethora of kids outside to shoot by the time my kids were there. And there were these orange pellets everywhere. It was like hundreds."
In the email from the principal sent Thursday, McWilliams wrote, "During our investigation, we have learned that some of the students who were the victims of this incident are members of our LGBTQ+ community. We have spoken to all parties involved and have referred this incident to the Barrington Police Department for further processing."
He added, "Disciplinary consequences will be in place for the students involved, and we have been meeting and supporting the impacted students."
McWilliams said the district also reached out to members of the school's Gay Straight Alliance, saying, "Let us be clear: Hate has no place in Barrington 220. As a community, we stand for respect and inclusion."
The school has trusted adults students can contact if they need help, he said. Students may also visit the Safety 220 webpage.
Stedman is not satisfied with the school's response.
"There was no type of lockdown placed on the school," she said.
Petersen said he was disappointed as well, and has faced bullying since the fourth grade.
"I'm just trying to get it off my mind and try to focus on my mental health," Petersen said.
On Friday, District 220 Superintendent Robert Hunt sent a message to the district community as well.
"Please know the district took immediate action to investigate and issue appropriate consequences for those who participated in the challenge," he wrote. "Additionally, we are providing support for the victims and any others who have been impacted by this event."
Hunt said open and honest dialogue with children is critically important.