Spike in creepy clown sightings, with more arrests across US
The creepy clown craze spooking the nation reached a fevered pitch last month with at least a dozen people arrested for taking part in the menacing stunt or for making false reports, according to police.
Now, various communities are stepping up patrols — with one suburban Cincinnati town having installed extra police at its football games Friday — while warning against clown-costumed copycats.
"Our citizens are frustrated with everything going on in society and this is another issue to address," Christopher Nacco, the sheriff of Pasco County, Florida, told NBC News in an email Saturday following a spate of claimed sightings.
"We are warning teens and young adults not to get involved in this fad, of dressing up as clowns to cause fear," Nacco added, "because eventually someone is going to perceive their actions as a threat and take justice in their own hands."
Reports of costumed characters sprung up like urban folklore. In late August in Greenville County, South Carolina, children reported spotting multiple clowns creeping in the woods and showing them "large amounts of money."
More on how people are responding to these sightings
Twelve people were arrested across Georgia, Alabama and Virginia in the past two weeks for making false reports of clown threats or chasing people while costumed, authorities said on various county police Facebook posts.
One death has even been linked to a possible clown hoax, The Associated Press reported.
Sightings and hoaxes have spread to more than a dozen states, including New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania in September and have led to elementary, middle schools and high schools being shut down in Ohio and added police patrols in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
Most of the six arrests in Alabama and Virginia were of juveniles.
A 22-year-old woman and two juveniles were charged last month in Flomaton, northwest of Mobile, for terroristic threats after making social media accounts claiming to be skulking clowns.
"No actual clowns were ever seen, only Facebook accounts with clown names and clown pictures," Flomaton Police Chief Bryan Davis said in an email. "It is sad to say but as in anything today, you will almost have some form of a copycat."
"Some people are frightened and have made remarks [about] hunting down these clowns," Davis added. "It's not a game, it's serious."
On Wednesday, two teens were charged in Henrico, Virginia, for chasing children while in clown masks.
The 17-year-old and 18-year-old males created Facebook accounts under the names of "Flomo Clown," "Shoota Cllown" and "Kaleb Clown," police said, and allegedly sent threats to students in the high schools within their counties.
The clown sightings have left people musing whether they're linked to a marketing ploy for the next Stephen King horror movie — a remake of "It" — or are something more sinister.
The Long Island, New York, community of Lindenhurst wasn't taking any chances this past week, saying it was keeping elementary school children inside during recess after a threatening message was posted to Twitter.
Suffolk County Police Chief Stu Cameron acknowledged that these are likely pranks, but said in a statement that they take it "quite seriously for all calls involving intentional harassment, trespassing and disturbing of peace."