Media reports of clowns terrorizing college campuses have led to widespread panic. But the creepy clown sightings may be nothing more than some not-so-funny hoaxes.
In August, Greenville, South Carolina police were told that clowns had attempted to lure children into the woods. Similar reports have since popped up throughout the country, but the veracity of these sightings is muddy. Police generally believe that the reports are either made up or that people are calling in pranksters in clown costumes.
Students have reported clown sightings at the University of Connecticut, University of Miami, Butler University, Texas A&M University, and Syracuse University, among a slew of other schools. Even if it is all bunk, colleges are taking the reports seriously and are trying to keep emotions from running high.
Western Carolina University and the University of New Hampshire have both tried to quell rumors about clown sightings that spread through social media. At Auburn University, officials sent a campus-wide email urging students not to follow clowns or wear clown costumes.
Reports of a clown sighting on the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak prompted hundreds of Pennsylvania State University students to gather outside residence halls Monday night. Some students took to the streets screaming and running, trying to capture the clown. A large clown image was also projected onto the side of a building.
That same day, Belmont University students armed with golf clubs went on a clown hunt after a student posted an image online of a clown on campus. Later, the student confessed to creating the image using Adobe Photoshop.
Merrimack College students were also in a clown frenzy on Monday, with posts on social media claiming a clown armed with a pitchfork and a rifle had been spotted on and near campus. A residence hall was evacuated and the campus was locked down for one hour, but police declared the incident to be a hoax.
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"We now know this was a hoax perpetrated through social media, not just on our campus but on several others throughout New England last night, a hoax fed by hysteria that has, by media accounts, now affected communities in 26 states," Merrimack President Christopher Hopey said in a statement on Tuesday. "This is the world in which we live, with very real threats intermingled with false alarms."
At least 12 people have been arrested for cases related to the clown sightings. Charges include making terroristic threats and disrupting public schools. The Associated Press reports there has been at least one death thought to be related to the clown hoaxes.
"This behavior is not cute or funny," police of Lagrange, Georgia wrote in a statement about clown sightings in their area.
Author Stephen King, whose horror novel It features a monstrous clown, is similarly unamused. He called for an end to "the clown hysteria" in a tweet on Monday, and points out that most clowns only want to do good.
A clown college representative expressed concern about the incidents to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
"It is troubling because it's a distraction for our clowns who just want to make people laugh and smile," explained Stephen Payne, VP for communication at Feld Entertainment, which runs the Clown College for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Mele, New York Times, 9/29; Zamudio-Suaréz, "The Ticker," Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/4; New, Inside Higher Ed, 10/5; Guarino, Washington Post, 10/5).
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