'Happy Slapping' Spreads in London


The images are startling. For sale on the Internet are videos that have recorded hundreds of fights in Arlington, Texas. Some of the fights appear organized, and the participants willing. But many of them show surprised, randomly chosen victims.

What is not random is the fairly sophisticated marketing and distribution of the videos. Six teens have been arrested on felony charges in connection with the videotaped fights. They seem motivated more by financial gain than thrills. The underground fight video, "Agg Townz Fights 2," which was filmed mostly in Arlington, Texas, has been sold online.

While the Arlington videos and fights are largely motivated by money, explained Arlington Deputy Police Chief James Hawthorne, he said he is now beginning to hear from other communities around the country dealing with similar issues -- fights recorded on video and with cell phones, available on the internet.

The videos have hit a nerve in the local community, especially with school about to let out for the summer.

"Like most people, shocked, appalled, honestly, ashamed, embarrassed. They come from good homes, good backgrounds, but on the videos, their activities look to be barbaric" said Reverend Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington.

Chief Hawthorne said being shown in the videos has appealed to kids, who get some notoriety at school, and when the tapes are shown at parties. But what is a new activity in Texas is already a runaway hit in Great Britain.

It's a craze that has terrified many in London. "Happy slapping, the practice of attacking random people by slapping or hitting them and then videotaping the event, has escalated in severity.

It can happen anywhere, anytime -- on the street, on the bus, in the classroom

One teenager -- it is usually a teenager -- attacks an unwitting passerby while another films the assault on a cell phone.

The clip then spreads like wildfire, presented as an amusing blooper sent from phone to phone, posted on the Internet or e-mailed.

Some of the assaults "Nightline" saw were real, some fake.

Just a bit of childish, harmless fun, right?

"This isn't happy. It's not funny. Would you like your mother to see you in that position?" said Siobhan Christmas, whose son, Triston, was attacked in February."Would you? It's nothing more than glorified bullying."

"Nightline" met Siobhan Christmas at a cemetery just outside London, at the grave of her 18-year-old son, Triston. He was killed by a so-called happy slapper. On a night out last year, Triston was punched so hard that he reeled backward, smashing his head on a concrete floor. He died a week later. Siobhan saw cell phone images of her son, blood oozing from his mouth and ear as he tried to speak.

"Did it make it worse for [me] as a mother?" Christmas asked. "Yes, much worse. It's the images. I'd have rather he, and this is going to sound completely sick in the head, if he'd been hit by a car, it would have been better."

As Triston lay writhing on the ground, his killer and the killer's gang went to a party and blithely sent the images of Triston to friends.

"The fact that he put it out to everybody to say, 'I'm really cool,'" Christmas said. "Look what I done to Triston Christmas. That's more hurtful."

Police investigating the murder seized cell phones from teenagers at the scene and found 14 other "happy slapping" incidents. The victims were found, and the perpetrators prosecuted.

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