All Gregory Wheeler wanted was to catch a few Pokemon. Instead, the North Linden resident caught three bullets in his legs and a foot, prompting Columbus police on Wednesday to warn residents to be careful while they play the popular Pokemon Go game across the city.
Wheeler, a 26-year-old graduate student at Ohio State University studying evolutionary biology, and friend Samantha Haub, 26, were playing Pokemon Go at about 9:40 p.m. Tuesday in Linden Park when a teenager on a bike stopped them and asked to borrow one of their phones to call his mother, said Columbus police spokesman Sgt. Rich Weiner.
But the teen took Haub’s phone and pedaled off, said Wheeler, who gave chase and asked a group of nearby teens to stop the bicycle.
Instead, the dozen or teens surrounded Haub and Wheeler, and Wheeler was hit in the back of the head. Both fell to the ground and were kicked by several people, he said.
When Wheeler got up to run away, some of the teens began to shout for someone to “get the gun,” he said. Then he felt the bullets in each of his thighs and his right foot.
“While I was laying on the ground bleeding, I was thinking that ‘I’m not even mad, really,’ ” said Wheeler, who is recovering at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “I don’t feel like this is a personal thing that happened to me. These are just kids.”
Wheeler and Haub, of Clintonville, ran to a house on Briarwood Avenue and called police.
Officers later stopped 14-year-old David Michael Sparks and another teen, Weiner said. Sparks was arrested after he admitted to the shooting, but denied stealing anything during the incident, according to an affidavit filed in Juvenile Court. Police found a 9 mm handgun in the area.
Sparks has been charged with two delinquency counts of aggravated robbery and one count of felonious assault.
The other suspect remains unidentified.
Wheeler is part of the North Linden Community Watch, said John Lathram, a North Linden area commissioner. He said Wheeler was new to the area and had just started attended “block watch” meetings.
Lathram said violence in Linden has escalated among children.
“I am extra concerned,” he said. “I’m even more concerned that it was a 14 year old who had a gun.”
At a press conference, Weiner said people shouldn’t have to be afraid in their own neighborhoods.
“This just goes to show you that we do have a problem and we’re trying to fix it so that people can just go ahead and walk in the neighborhoods and not have to worry about becoming a victim of a robbery,” he said.
Joshua Irish, a local Pokemon Go player and administrator of the Pokemon Go: Columbus, OH Facebook forum, said Pokemon trainers should exercise caution while playing.
“If you have any doubt whatsoever about the safety of an area to hunt in, always err on the side of caution,” said Irish, of Dublin. “There are plenty of Pokemon to hunt in public areas, such as Columbus’ malls and parks.”
Wheeler, founder of an Ohio State Pokemon Go group, and said the incident won’t stop his quest to catch’em all.
“Even after all this, I’m still going to play, even in that park. Just not at night.”
Reporter John Futty contributed to this story.