Seniors compete in long-awaited ‘Rocket Assassin’


Photo by Avery Wang

Seniors Anna Jean-Phillipe, Cindy Chen and Kyle Nguyen pose with their water guns.

As the end of the school year approaches, seniors are studying for their final exams, picking outfits for prom, counting down the days until graduation and hunting one another with water guns. 

An annual second-semester RM tradition, Rocket Assassin is a water gun battle at its core, with rules and “Purge Days” that inject a sense of alertness and thrill into seniors’ daily routines. 

“Basically it’s a giant water gun fight and it’s all for laughs,” senior Pacifico Murphy said. “But also, people will do whatever it takes to win.”

This year’s competition includes 49 teams, composed of four players each. Each team is assigned a team to target, with a twofold goal—eliminate your target and stay alive. When a team eliminates all players from their target team, they assume their target’s target team. 

While the activity is advertised as a non-school sponsored event, players must still adhere to ground rules and are provided some safeguards; for example, MCPS school grounds are a “safety zone” and wearing swim floaties grants immunity outside of safe zones. 

The rules include: seniors only, inform family members, bright and visible floaties, no assassinations in safety zones, no extreme aggression and no eliminations on prom night. Players are also required to document their kills in a five-second clear video clip to be sent to @rocketassassin on Instagram for an elimination to be considered valid. The rules also encourage participants to use common sense, and the game is not a school sponsored event. 

The entry fee was $5 per person, or $20 per team, and amounted to a prize pool of over $1,000. This year, the first place prize is $600, and the remaining amount is split between the runner-ups. 

“The cash prize is a good incentive,” Murphy said. “Part of the value you get out of it is the game itself, you know, the strategic planning. There’s definitely a lot of tension going on right now among seniors, and, of course, the moments of action…where you eventually hunt down your target.” 

Some students have gone to extreme lengths, finding flight details to stalk their targets through airports, taking to the roads for drive-by water spraying or entering homes to catch their friends by surprise.

Murphy made the first kill by finding online information on his target, Tyler Senko. “[He] was in a Washington Nationals JV Hockey Database, and his mom was listed as a contact. So that’s how I found out his mother’s name and email. And then using a reverse lookup… I just found his address,” Murphy said. “I just figured that the morning of the first day of senior assassin, people wouldn’t be ready. So why not stick out a house and get the first kill?”

All MCPS grounds, school affiliated events, inside houses, cars (unless given permission) and places of worship are designated as safety zones. Safety zones are ‘no-attack’ areas. Participants are also not permitted to shoot others while they are driving cars or actively working (ex. babysitting). The organizers stress on Instagram that places and activities can become safety zones if the individual or others will be put in danger, and one player was involved in a car accident unrelated to the game on April 27. 

Some students on the event’s Instagram page called for appeals on the legality of their untimely demises, to which the organizers reposted a statement saying “appealing your death or someone else’s death is no longer a thing. If I think [you’re] dead, [you’re] dead, stop [complaining].”

Floaties are a symbol of immunity and must be worn on participants’ arms or legs, so long as they remain clearly visible. They offer protection but are simultaneously a marker that a student is participating in the game, making them a target for other players. 

Purge days are days in which floaties no longer grant immunity and are announced 24 hours prior. These days are a free-for-all and target assignments do not dictate who can be eliminated by who.  However, purge days still prohibit shooting in safety zones. On the first purge, 29 students were eliminated—in their homes, walking to cars and at work.

“Stay dry, happy hunting and don’t trust anyone,” Murphy said.