Editor’s note: Since this article was originally published, clown sightings have multiplied across the country, with dozens of incidents and a number of arrests. A police officer in Dallas took to Facebook to exhort people to ‘pop a cap’ into any clowns they see, while a school in Washington State was put on partial lockdown after students received threats over text and clowns, possibly carrying knives, were seen nearby. Theories abound on why this is happening, though it turns out clown sightings are not a new phenomenon, and have in fact been occurring semi-regularly since at least 1981. We can only hope the clowns will go back into hiding after Halloween.
Of all the many ways to terrify a stranger, lurking around in the bushes wearing a clown costume is particularly effective, as citizens in the Carolinas can attest. Police have responded to several reports there from residents describing unsettling encounters with people dressed in curly wigs, spotted shirts, oversize pants and garish clown masks.
In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a woman called police after her grandkids reported seeing a person in clown regalia attempting to lure them into the woods with offers of “treats and candy.” And in South Carolina’s Greenville County, several reports have emerged, with disturbing accounts of clowns enticing children with money, a “heavy-set clown” loitering under a streetlamp at night, and creepy sounds of clanking chains outside front doors.
And now, most recently in Greensboro, North Carolina, a man took matters into his own hands when he saw a person dressed as a clown emerge from the woods near his apartment complex, chasing him away with a machete.
Is it a hoax, or is it marketing?
What’s going on? Some have speculated that the sudden influx of clowns is an elaborate, pre-autumn/Halloween prank, or perhaps even a bit of guerrilla marketing; the upcoming 2017 movie release of Stephen King’s “It,” directed by Rob Zombie, features an evil clown known as Pennywise.
(Pennywise, however, indicated he was nowhere near the area in a recent tweet)
Whatever the case, local authorities are not amused. “If this is a hoax or publicity stunt it is not funny,” said Greensboro police spokeswoman Susan Danielsen. “It is alarming to the public and a drain on police resources. We just don’t know at this point, because we haven’t had the chance to interview any clowns.”
Can they be arrested?
So far, there have been no reports of any actual abductions, injuries, or other crimes, and police are treating the situation just as they would any others that involve suspicious persons. Nevertheless, whether it’s a point of true concern or just rampant coulrophobia, the police seem extra motivated to make their disenchantment with the whole situation clear. “The clowning needs to stop,” Greenville Police Chief Glen Miller said recently, adding “it’s illegal, it’s dangerous, it’s inappropriate, it’s creating community concern.”
The laws in North Carolina do offer one way to go after the not-so-hilarious pranksters: statute 14-12.7 states that:
No person or persons at least 16 years of age shall, while wearing any mask, hood or device whereby the person, face or voice is disguised so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, enter, be or appear upon any lane, walkway, alley, street, road, highway or other public way.
That seems pretty iron-clad, should the clown who got chased off by the guy with a machete ever choose to surface again.
Can’t keep a good clown down
It may be of some comfort (or maybe not) to residents dealing with this current clown crisis to know that suspicious behavior of this sort has cropped up before: around Halloween in 2014, there was a rash of clown sightings in California, along with similar appearances in several other states. And just last year, a couple made a cell phone recording of somebody dressed in a yellow clown suit cavorting amongst the gravestones in Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery.
Whatever motivations exist for the perpetrators, the police aren’t the only ones hoping the bizarre shenanigans come to an end soon. “I walked into an event in a bright-colored hat and vest and one of the first things someone said was, ‘Oh my God, it’s a clown, it’s a clown,’” South Carolina resident and professional, not-meant-to-be-scary clown performer Kelly Monfort told NBC News. “[Next time] I’ll probably ask the event coordinator to walk me into the event.”
Needless to say, making like Bozo and getting weird in the woods is not a recommended activity; however, should you feel the need to join the “fun,” you might want to clear up a few legal questions first, or be extra safe and consult a lawyer before going out to buy funny shoes and face paint.