'Monsters in clown costumes': Mystery surrounds terrifying trend
Published Wednesday, October 5, 2016 7:21AM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, October 5, 2016 4:43PM EDT
It's a phenomenon that's sweeping across North America, from Georgia to Glace Bay, N.S. Mysterious, occasionally armed individuals dressed as terrifying clowns, who are frequently spotted wandering the streets at night, standing in bizarre locations, or menacing members of the public. There have been no reported injuries stemming from the behaviour, but several incidents have led police to get involved.
There have been numerous reports of "creepy clowns" in the U.S. over the last month, and even a few in Canada. In Nova Scotia, for instance, a woman in her car turned down a side street to avoid one clown, only to be surrounded by five more who stood and simply stared at her. On Tuesday, a photo of a clown standing beside a Halifax high school was posted to Instagram. The account’s biography reads, "We stalking you so keep your eyes open. We ain't killing we just creeping."
In some cases, police have been called to investigate. Two teenagers are facing charges in connection with allegedly uploading threatening Facebook posts about clowns at schools in Colchester County, a community north of Halifax. A 17-year-old boy from Stewiacke, N.S. and a 16-year-old girl from Shubenacadie, N.S. are facing mischief charges. In a statement released Tuesday, Truro Police said “there is nothing to indicate that these posts were going to be acted upon.” Police have not described details of the posts.
In yet another incident in the Maritime province this week, a 24-year-old man was arrested in Clarks Harbor, N.S. on Tuesday after witnesses told police he was walking down the street dressed in a clown mask and t-shirt and allegedly grabbed at the clothing of a young boy. The suspect, who police have not identified, faces charges of breach of undertaking.
And back in mid-August, Gatineau police let two teens off without charges after they were arrested for donning clown costumes and frightening small children.
In the U.S., clowns have been spotted in the woods of South Carolina and North Carolina, near schools in Ohio, Georgia and Long Island, N.Y., and standing outside an apartment complex in Kentucky. The Kentucky case led to the arrest of a 20-year-old, who appears in his arrest photos wearing a clown costume, sans mask.
Jonathan Martin arrested after Middlesboro police says he was hiding in ditch line, trying to scare people. pic.twitter.com/l0IaHSTEmQ— Phil Pendleton (@philtvnews) September 23, 2016
A viral trend?
Speculation has been high over the reason for these incidents. Is it a publicity stunt, a new form of internet-co-ordinated anarchy, or simply a case of copy-cat clowning?
Although some have suggested it might be a clever ruse to promote a Halloween-themed film, no one has claimed that's the case. A film adaption of the Stephen King novel "It" is currently shooting in Toronto, but the film's producers have already denied any association with the creepy clown sightings. The film isn't due out for another year anyway, with Sept. 8, 2017 pegged as its release date.
At least one individual on social media has admitted to jumping on the bandwagon for the creepy clown trend. On Tuesday, a user on Reddit claimed to have incited a panic at his college campus by posting a photo on Facebook that had been altered to show the silhouette of a clown, pictured lurking in the shadows. "Thinking it was one big joke, I decided to Photoshop a 'sighting,' user M1k3yd33t wrote in a post, which has since been deleted. "I wanted to play into the joke." He said the "joke" quickly got out of hand, with security issuing a lockdown and police searching the scene with helicopters.
The post did not specify where the scare took place, but school campuses in New Hampshire and Massachusetts were placed in lockdown earlier this week over reported clown sightings. No clowns were found in either case.
Also this week, police in Ohio said an 18-year-old woman lied about being threatened by a knife-wielding clown as an excuse to skip work.
Professionals at the Montreal Clown Festival last month said they don't condone the creepy clown trend. "What these people are doing is acting like monsters in clown costumes to prank people," Stacey Laureyssens, president of Clowns Canada, told The Canadian Press. "They are not clowns."
The clown conundrum of 2014
The current wave of creepy clown sightings is happening around the same time of year as a similar incident in 2014. Several photos of "killer clowns" appeared online around Halloween, with a few Twitter users claiming to be the clowns in the photos.
The phenomenon spread at least as far as France, where more than a dozen individuals were arrested for allegedly dressing up as clowns to threaten passers-by. In one instance, 14 teens were seen wielding guns, knives and baseball bats. In another case, a man dressed as a clown allegedly beat another man with an iron bar.
The rash of clown-related incidents led the mayor of Vendargues, France to ban all clown costumes for Halloween.