College Town Considers Legal Action After YouTube Pranksters Hold Pop-Up Party Despite COVID

Illinois State University (ISU) is considering consequences for students who attended a 200-person party hosted early Wednesday morning by The NELK Boys, a group of college-aged pranksters with nearly 5.7 million YouTube followers. At the party, students ignored the city and school's face mask and social distancing rules meant to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak on campus.

On Wednesday, ISU President Larry Dietz said the party occurred at a local apartment complex used as off-campus student housing. The party dispersed as soon as officers from the Normal City Police Department arrived.

However, ISU Police Chief Aaron Woodruff told The Pantagraph that the party relocated three times after it was moved, with students simply re-congregating at new locations.

While no one was fined or arrested, videos of the partygoers posted on the NELK Boys Instagram stories showed students drinking and cheering in a large crowd with no space or face masks between them.

YouTubers known as Nelk boys, after hosting an “open up gyms” protest and partying their way through LA, are now traveling to colleges encouraging students to ignore COVID restrictions to party.

Pls watch these videos this is what they’re promoting to their 3.5M young followers

— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) September 10, 2020

"It really gives me no joy to convey my great disappointment in the actions of those who gathered," Dietz said. "The bulk of our students are doing the right thing."

In addition to university sanctions, Dietz said he is working with police to see if additional sanctions could be applied to students who are identified as attendees.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos pledged to pursue legal action against the NELK Boys—including Canadian-born prankster Kyle Forgeard, his cohort known as "Salim the Dream" and their content director Austin Ermes—as well as anyone who might've invited the group into town.

NELK Boys Illinois State University party COVID-19
A photo illustration of college-age partygoers. shironosov/Getty

Normal city police were slow to respond to the gathering because of its unexpected "pop-up" nature and the fact that half the town's officers had been responding to a fatal accident that occurred near the same time.

The city recently passed an ordinance to limit gatherings around campus to fewer than 10 people. City officials have also reportedly asked local landlords to report any potential gatherings to prevent a similar incident from occurring.

As of September 9, ISU has reported 1,321 confirmed COVID-19 cases among its student body of 21,039 and nearly 1,600 faculty. As of September 9, the state of Illinois has had over 257,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 8,457 related deaths.

Newsweek contacted the NELK Boys for comment.

On Twitter, the NELK Boys claimed to be headed to other U.S. cities such as Chicago, Columbus and Philadelphia, where their appearances could cause large gatherings of college-aged fans. However, it's unclear whether the group has planned similar parties in these cities or has merely listed them as part of misleading prank.