It Isn’t a Prank; It’s Assault

A child in Pennsylvania with a deadly peanut allergy suffered an allergic attack after classmates smeared peanut butter onto his possessions. Image credit: Kiyotaka Okami, CC-by 2.0.

The distinction shouldn’t be hard to understand: drawing a picture of a gun is a harmless prank, but putting someone at actual risk of a medical emergency or death is assault. A local news station in Kentucky has the two concepts confused. NBC affiliate WFIE in Kentucky headlines it a “prank” when classmates reportedly smeared peanut butter across the possessions of a teen with a deadly peanut allergy. His mother thinks the incident is deliberate. The station news editor doesn’t comprehend the danger.

Last year in Pennsylvania a similar incident ended with felony charges against three high school students when a fourteen-year-old girl with an anaphylactic allergy to pineapples needed emergency medical care. Last year in the United Kingdom, a thirteen-year-old boy with a milk allergy died after a classmate in a cafeteria reportedly assaulted him with a piece of cheese.

Yes, that can kill people.

No, it’s no prank.

Listen, I’m as sympathetic as anyone when zero tolerance policies force administrators to suspend a pupil who makes the shape of a gun with two fingers and says, “pow.” That’s a prank. If you want to rail against overzealous enforcement I’m with you there.

The difference of course is whether an action causes actual risk of substantial harm.

No child chooses to have a malfunctioning immune system. A food allergy isn’t the result of a psychological problem or helicopter parenting. It’s an ADA recognized disability.

That shouldn’t be hard to grasp. In the wake of improved awareness in recent years, it’s surprising that an otherwise respectable news station still makes this mistake. Are we still having this conversation in 2018?

Prank implies harmless. Which I wish allergies were but this isn’t.

The telephone number of the station is (812) 426–1414.
Their email address is

I’ve reached out to them asking that they correct this error. One might describe an allegedly deliberate exposure to a potentially deadly allergen any number of ways, but prank is inappropriate.