Police Drop Charges For Wausau Students With Toy Guns

911 Call Prompted Full Police Response

Toy Nerf gun
Nerf makes a variety of brightly colored toy guns. The arrests happened after dark, however, making the colors difficult to discern. Photo: Mike Mozart (CC-BY)

An off-campus game by Wausau high school students led to a guns drawn response by multiple police officers. The incident prompted a backlash in the community.

The 911 call came from a Wausau homeowner a week ago Tuesday night, who described a scene involving “three guys right now surrounding a white car; they may have guns drawn.”

The call prompted a full police response, ten squad cars and 12 officers, who handcuffed six teenagers at gunpoint. The would-be assailants were armed only with Nerf guns, toys that shoot foam projectiles, for a game called “Senior Shootout” that has become an unauthorized tradition at Wausau West high school. Police Chief Jeff Hardel says the situation could have spiraled out of control, with deadly consequences.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“They have their guns drawn,” Hardel said. “All it takes is a subtle movement, and the officer might think that they have a gun, or they’re reaching for a gun.”

The six seniors were initially charged with disorderly conduct. Then came the backlash, charges that the police over-reacted, criticism in the newspaper, and concerns that the kids — all good students — would have a blot on their records.

Tuesday, the police dropped the charges, after the teens agreed to make a public service video. Wausau West Principal Jeb Steckbauer says the kids learned a lesson.

“I don’t think their intentions were ever to do anything wrong,” he said. “We’re obviously, I guess, most happy that nobody was hurt.”

Chief Hardel says his officers acted appropriately.