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Hoax or threat? Clown sightings fuel panic nationwide

Creepy clown sightings nationwide
Creepy clown "sightings" spreading nationwide fuels panic 04:03

There’s been a wave of creepy clown sightings across the United States. Going back to late August, there have been dozens of reports of threatening clowns, largely centered around schools and colleges. 

Many have been dismissed by law enforcement as pranks, but more than a dozen people have been arrested in connection with the sightings. Whether they are pranks, threats or actual sightings, police and other officials have to take them seriously as a potential threat to safety. That’s starting to drain resources from law enforcement agencies, who are also concerned about feeding into hysteria, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.

It seems as if a new report of a threatening clown pops up every hour.

Creepy clown craze raising concerns 01:58

This week, a 14-year-old in California was arrested when he threatened a middle and high school on an Instagram page called “Fontana’s Killer Clowns.” Police said the teen wanted to scare people and gain social media followers.

“We’ve heard that people were going to show up on campus but we haven’t seen anything,” said one student.

Police in Connecticut dealt with a similar social media threat targeting several schools in the New Haven area. While officials dismissed it as a hoax, they’re still taking it seriously.

“At this time we are considering this to be nothing more than a prank and harassment fueled by social media (with) upcoming Halloween. Working with the police department and our own security team, we have no evidence that there is a credible threat to students or schools in the district,” said Garth Harries, superintendent of New Haven public schools. 

It appears to have been much more than a scare near San Francisco on Wednesday. A mother said she fought off a person dressed as a clown, who grabbed her one-year-old daughter.

“I thought he was going to kiss her hand. Instead, he pulled her arm literally, so I pulled her arm back and I kicked him,” said Tiffany Martin.

The phenomenon started in late August, when children in South Carolina reported seeing a clown beckoning them into the woods. But those sightings were never confirmed.

The clown scare was even brought up at a White House press briefing this week.

When asked if the president was aware of the troubling trend and for comment, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “I don’t know that the president has been briefed on this particular situation.”

Some are so upset by the perceived threats, they’re ready to take the law into their own hands. Hundreds of students at Penn State University launched a late night manhunt after a clown was reportedly seen on campus.

It’s that type of behavior that put some professional clowns on edge.

“I’ve been flipped off, I’ve been booed, I’ve had trash thrown at my car, I’ve been experiencing excessive profanity while performing,” said Justin Brodie, a professional clown.

So why are so many people playing into the panic?

“Hoaxes and attempts to frighten people and people buying into it have happened throughout history, but we’re ripe for this right now because social media, which allows a fear to propagate globally very quickly. And because right now, we are a country very anxious about otherness,” said psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz.

But in addition to the suspects accused of making online threats, some of those who have been arrested are charged with making false reports, making this whole situation even more frustrating for police officers all over the country.

Meanwhile, the trend appeared to be spreading, with similar reports to police in England this week.

Police in Gloucestershire, England, have now warned residents about people in clown suits acting suspiciously after receiving six reports of such behaviour. In some cases, the clown-suited individuals were reportedly acting in a threatening manner. Police officers have yet to see anyone in a clown suit in their responses to the calls.

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