06/13/2024

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Left: Crime scene footage from shooting of Anakin Zehring, May 11, 2024 in Kansas. Inset: Ruben Contreras appears in court after arrest. YouTube screengrabs KSN. Right: Anakin Zehring. GoFundMe.

Teen paralyzed during ‘Senior Assassin’ water-tag game outside Walmart after being shot with real gun

Left: Crime scene footage from shooting of Anakin Zehring, May 11, 2024 in Kansas. Inset: Ruben Contreras appears in court after arrest (images via YouTube/KSN). Right: Anakin Zehring (via GoFundMe).

A Kansas man, Ruben Contreras, 47, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and an 18-year-old has been paralyzed after a high school game involving a toy water gun in a Walmart parking lot allegedly triggered a tragic sequence of events.

According to a probable cause affidavit from the Sedgwick County Sherriff’s Office obtained by Law&Crime on Friday, the shooting occurred near 5 p.m. on May 11 in Goddard, Kansas. Police said they found Anakin Zehring, 18, in the driver’s seat of his car parked at a Walmart. The teen had been shot once in his lower back and police believed the bullet had pierced his kidney and liver. After being transferred to a local hospital, medical staff reported that he may have been paralyzed.

That fear was confirmed and Kelly Zehring, the teen’s mother, told local NBC affiliate KSN this week that her son is struggling to come to grips with what happened: that he been shot in the upper part of his small intestine and his spinal cord was also punctured.

“Mom, every time I close my eyes, I tell my legs to move for me and they don’t move,’” Kelly Zehring recounted her son telling her after the fusion of three bones in his spine.

“So it’s very hard for him, very hard; I mean, it’s sad that he has to go through this,” she said.

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    Contreras, 47, was arrested and charged on May 15. Police said that a preliminary investigation involving interviews with multiple witnesses to the shooting determined that Contreras had arrived after Anakin Zehring, driving with two other teens riding in his car, had reportedly used a toy gun known as a “gel blaster” in front of the Walmart to shoot at Contreras’ daughter. The toy gun fires polymer water beads.

    Police said the 17-year-old girl told them that she and her boyfriend were walking by when they were shot at with the water beads. A Walmart employee told police he saw Zehring’s car drive past the young couple and was able to hear someone shout: “I’m your senior assassin!”

    Zehring appeared to be playing a social media trending tag-style game among high school seniors known as “Senior Assassin.”

    The game has sparked controversy elsewhere, including in Virginia, according to WTOP, where some school districts have expressed concern over the confusion the game can cause when fake weapons can so closely resemble real ones.

    After the girl was shot with the water bead, police said she told them that she called her father, Contreras, and he allegedly arrived on the scene, gun in tow, and attempted to confront Zehring as he attempted to drive away. Police say footage from the parking lot showed Contreras running up on Zehring’s car before pulling a firearm from his waistband.

    The 47-year-old then stuck the gun through the open window of the back seat on the driver’s side and fired a single round.

    A teenage passenger identified as L.O. who rode in the back of Zehring’s car as the gel blasters were fired told police that they also shot their toy gun at a Walmart employee as Zehring continued to drive around Walmart. They eventually parked, went inside the store and within minutes were told by a manager to leave, L.O. said.

    The teens left the Walmart and walked through the parking lot to a nearby Dairy Queen, spent five minutes there and headed back to Zehring. Moments later, as they all piled into the car, L.O. now in the front seat, that’s when the teen said he saw Contreras “sprinting” toward them. Zehring rolled down his back window and slowed the car down.

    The shot was fired by Contreras through the window just a moment later, the witness said, and the car kept rolling before it crashed into containers in the parking lot. Police said Zehring’s friends fled the vehicle after the crash.

    The boyfriend and teen girl who were shot with the water beads told police that Zehring had pulled up on them “shouting profanities” before pulling out the gel blaster and shooting them with it. He said he didn’t know the boys in the car and that the couple fled into the Walmart afterward.

    The girl called her father moments later, telling him they were shot with a gel blaster, police said.

    As they left, one of the teens from Zehring’s car called the girl’s boyfriend “a b—- and later told him to meet him out back of the Walmart.”

    The couple left the scene, went to their car to wait for an online pick-up order and for Contreras to show up. Police said the girl told her father that there were three teens trying to beat her boyfriend up. Once Contreras got there, police said the girl’s boyfriend told them he parked next to them first, got out, walked over to the area where Zehring was and then he “heard a pop.”

    Contreras’ daughter told police in the moment she was scared of what may happen to her father and had kept her head down when she heard the pop.

    Police said Zehring told them “his ears starting ringing” when he realized he had been shot and then he “realized he couldn’t feel his legs,” records note

    “Zehring stated he hit a pole in the parking lot to get the Spark to stop because he didn’t want to hit anyone in the roadway,” an affidavit states, referring to the car the teen was driving.

    Contreras was booked on a $300,000 on bond and has since bailed out. He made his initial court appearance on May 15 but does not appear again until June 24.

    In the meantime, Zehring has undergone weeks of treatment and has racked up significant medical expenses already. On his family’s GoFundMe page, Kelly Zehring writes that her son is now in a rehabilitation facility in Omaha.

    “Currently, he is experiencing a loss of sensation in his lower extremities, and while the prognosis remains uncertain, we are holding onto hope for his recovery. The financial burden of this journey is immense. Medical expenses are mounting rapidly, and we are bracing for future costs related to his ongoing care and rehabilitation,” she wrote.

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