“Kia Boys” Come to Campus: Viral Trend Leads to Increase in Car Theft

"Kia Boyz" (sic) written in sharpie on a since recovered Kia Soul which was stolen near campus. Photo Credit: Tova Mertz

 On the evening of Sunday, Oct. 29, University of Puget Sound students may have been surprised by an email from Security Services relaying a schoolwide safety alert. “Security Services has received reports of vehicles driving on sidewalks near campus. Please use caution when walking in and around campus.” This alert followed multiple instances of erratic driving from different vehicles. The drivers and passengers of the cars were also reported to have been harassing and interacting with University of Puget Sound students.

  Due to a lack of safety features and anti-theft technology found on other modern cars, the ease with which late model Kias and Hyundais can be stolen has sparked a viral social media trend known as “Kia Boys.” Participants in this trend post videos joyriding these stolen cars, most of the time driving dangerously but sometimes using the vehicles to engage in other crimes. The Puget Sound campus has recently experienced the Kiaboys firsthand, facing reckless and potentially dangerous driving during Halloween weekend as well as a significant increase in automotive theft.  

  While on his way to a party on Saturday, Oct. 28, Dylan Cordeiro (‘27) witnessed one of these incidents at the intersection of 12th St. and Union. “We were just kinda standing there watching them, and they came back up a couple times I think. They were doing donuts in the intersection,” he said.

  April Murillo (‘27) was with Cordeiro at the time. The car’s wild swerving brought it near to their group as well as other students. “It didn’t seem like they had very much control of the car, so like one bad move and they would have hit somebody,” she said.

  Though this incident occurred on public roads surrounding campus, other joyriding happened on campus itself during the same weekend. Security Services Assistant Director Greg Lynch explained another vehicle sped on many of the walkways that crisscross campus, cutting directly past Security’s office. “They came right through campus the very next night, cut right down here between McIntyre and Smith and came out this way, a different vehicle, much more damaged,” he said.

  It wasn’t long before videos of the reckless driving were uploaded to social media. Posted on Instagram on Oct. 28, a video from user @_253kiaboys_ showed an in-car perspective of the incident between the field and gym.

  In the video, the car crawled slowly on the sidewalk behind a group of students dressed in Halloween costumes. At one point, a passenger hung out the window and yelled at nearby students. Other videos on this account include documentation of theft and hotwiring with USB cables, reckless driving elsewhere, crashed cars, and a gun pointed out of the car’s window.

  Lynch confirmed that Security Services is aware of and concerned about the Kiaboys trend. He explained that perpetrators are often juveniles whose “boosting” of cars is spurred by minimal legal repercussions for automotive theft as a minor. His larger worry, however, is not with kids joyriding, but instead with participants in the Kiaboys trend who use stolen vehicles to commit more serious crimes. “They’re stealing a vehicle, then they’re committing a crime, then maybe they’re coming up here to dump that vehicle and boost another vehicle. These are people we’re very worried about,” he said.

  The Kiaboys, in addition to other factors, have prompted an upsurge of car theft in Tacoma. “Car theft, as a rule in Tacoma is – I don’t have the numbers – but it is increasing and visible. Kias and Hyundais in particular,” Lynch affirmed.

  The pattern in cars stolen from the University aligns with this trend. “We’ve had seven auto thefts in the last calendar year since January. Most of that has been during the semester,” Lynch said. During this period, there have also been six reported theft attempts, and 20 automotive break-ins where items were stolen but the vehicle itself was not. Lynch confirmed that these statistics are irregularly high. “It’s pretty clear they’re getting away with more stolen vehicles, car break-ins than there were for the calendar year previous,” he said.

  Despite this increase in theft, Lynch said he still believes students face less risk parking on campus, citing the lack of cameras in the neighborhoods surrounding campus as well as the lack of an organized security service or individuals to witness and respond to theft quickly for this rationale.

  Lynch asserted that the presence of Security Services on campus helps to dissuade theft, as routine patrols disrupt prowling individuals looking for cars to steal. Though security is limited in their response if a car is stolen, Lynch believes that seeing a security truck can disincentivize theft. “So we’re not stopping moving vehicles, our response is to be a presence, to get our vehicles there, make sure that we’re visible,” he said.

  In the instance of theft, Security Services can be a valuable resource to victimized students. “If you come up with a missing vehicle, get a hold of us, we can help you make sure that it’s not in another parking lot. We can help you look for it, we can facilitate the police to the location if it’s on campus,” Lynch said. “We urge students to report, not only more, but in a timely manner.”

  In the case of off-campus car theft, victims must go to the police directly without Security Services as an intermediary. Tova Mertz (‘25) had her car, a late model Kia Soul, stolen by the Kiaboys on Nov. 12. She explains that the police helped recover her vehicle as well as piece together the events that occurred after it was stolen from outside her house nearby 6th Ave. “I had to report it to the police or whatever, and they said it was stolen at 9:30, and then around 10:30 there was like a minor collision, but it was fine. And then the next day they were trying to use my car to break into other cars in Tacoma,” she said.

  Though this is the first time her car has been successfully stolen, Mertz says that another theft was attempted in August as well. “My car was tampered with and almost stolen but not stolen. So they ripped out the ignition, like the plastic surrounding the ignition, and it was undriveable, I couldn’t put a key in and then they broke a back window,” she said.

  Afterward, Mertz took her Kia to an auto repair shop where it was fixed. During these repairs, it was supposedly fitted with an updated ignition system from Kia to address the original, theft-susceptible mechanism. “They did recall work on it that’s supposed to be like anti-theft, but dude, my car was stolen, obviously it didn’t work,” she scoffed.

  When her car was recovered after its theft, the interior had been trashed; one of the perpetrators had cut out the stuffing from the back of the passenger seat; it was covered in crumbs and a sticky substance, and smelled decidedly foul. Mertz described the contents of the car as disturbing. 

  She recalled finding an empty bag and wallet, a 2024 school planner, and a pair of pants. “The most upsetting thing was there was a backpack full of women’s clothing in the very back,” she added. The condition of her car prompted confusion and concerns of sexual misconduct. “It was worn clothing. I don’t want to say the R word but that was something I was really thinking about,” Mertz said. “I was just like, ‘what the fuck happened in this Kia Soul?’”

  Almost as if to add insult to injury, the thieves scrawled “Kiaboyz” in sharpie on the roof above the driver’s-side door. After this experience, Mertz and her family have decided to get the car repaired, but only in the hopes of finding a new owner. When asked if other students with Kias should do the same, she replied “Yes, sell your Kia Soul.”

  Mertz also clarified that she felt like her car was more secure while parking in on-campus lots versus at her house near 6th Avenue. “I had my car here last year like pretty much the entire year and I never was worried,” she said. 

  Regardless of parking location, Mertz advised students to take preventative measures – especially if they own a Kia. “Get a wheel lock, and then apparently you can get a little red flashing button that you can put in your car which will scare people off because it looks like anti-theft stuff,” she said.

  Mertz also suggested that students keep the interior of their car clean, a sentiment echoed by Security Services. “Keeping your vehicle immaculately clean on the inside is a big first step, because there’s no curiosity to try to get in there and see if there’s something easy to grab,” said Lynch.

  The University has also taken precautions to prevent reckless driving on campus itself as well as theft. After the recent joyriding through campus, students have noticed subtle blockades placed near campus entrances. For some, this has granted them a greater sense of security, but others are more jaded to the reality of car theft and reckless driving. “I saw that they put big flower pots so the car wouldn’t drive on campus anymore, so I guess I don’t really care, it happens,” said Murillo. 

  These precautions are especially necessary as the Kiaboys trend continues to gain traction in Tacoma. Murillo explained that people and organizations outside of the University sphere have been struggling with challenges related to Kiaboys and car theft as well. “It happened to a random person that was my Uber driver. We went to church, and the church people started talking about it because I guess they were also doing donuts or whatever in the church parking lot,” she said.