The creepy clown sightings of summer ’16 — the odd reports that began in South Carolina in August, and metastasized in North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and beyond — are shaping up to be more bogus than Bozo.
Not to mention a time-consuming chore for police, who are not amused.
Consider the case in Hogansville, Ga., last Wednesday. Like a horror film cliche, it began with a phone call. Clowns drove into a small Georgia town in a white van, two witnesses said in 911 calls to the local sheriff’s office. Parked on the side of the road, the clowns tried to beckon children to enter the vehicle.
Had authorities found innocent clowns in the van, never mind sinister jesters, it would have marked the first such discovery since the scary clown phenomenon swept up through the South.
Several incidents involved secondhand reports from young children, like those in South Carolina and more recently in Maryland. Some adults, too, said they had seen clowns fleeing into the woods. More recently, social media accounts, claiming to belong to clowns, have sent threatening messages to schools.
Law enforcement officers, who must treat the calls and threats seriously, have investigated.
But in almost every case, the sightings shared more than just a clown-fearing theme: Investigators also found no evidence that the creepy clowns existed.
In the few exceptions, the clowns have come clean as pranksters or promoters.
In Wisconsin, an actor admitted to wearing a clown costume at night to campaign for a short scary movie. Then there was the Facebook video first shared by user Suzy Wills on Sept. 12. In the clip, since viewed more than 8.6 million times, a clown ominously waves in the Pensacola, Fla., night. “This is all a prank played on me,” Wills wrote in the comments section beneath the video, two days later.
But calls to authorities cannot be dismissed so easily as pranks.
On Wednesday, the Troup County Sheriff’s office responded to the clown van call in Hogansville. Arriving deputies spotted a van parked on the side of the road, according to a report from the sheriff’s office. The driver told the deputies he had run out of gas and allowed them to search his vehicle. His van was clean, not so much as a squeaky nose or squirt flower in sight.
The deputies contacted one of the two callers, 26-year-old Brandon Jerome Moody. Moody, according to the report, ultimately admitted he “had just made it up and that he was aware of all the complaints about clowns and the schools being on lock down.”
In fact, Callaway Middle School, located on the same road where the van was parked, had recently been threatened via social media. Deb Myers, on behalf of the Troup County School System, told LaGrange Daily News the school was on “soft lock down” on Wednesday. The threat is being investigated.
Moody then told police his sister-in-law, 27-year-old Rebecca Moody, also called 911 to falsely claim she had spotted clowns near the van, according to the Troup County news release. Both Moodys were arrested and charged with obstruction as well as unlawful conduct during a 911 call.
The sheriff’s office has “zero tolerance for anybody calling in false reports,” Sheriff James Woodruff told LaGrange Daily News.
Callaway Middle School was not the only school involved in the clown brouhaha. In the Alabama city of Flomaton, messages from a Facebook page called “Flomo Klown” — pictures of threatening clowns plus text that read, “I kill people for a living” — prompted another lockdown Thursday. FBI agents and dozens of local police scoured the school campus. Officials said they found no clown or other suspicious evidence; they later arrested Makayla Smith, 22, and two juvenile Alabama residents for allegedly making the threats. Smith’s bond was set at $200,000 on Monday.
Law enforcement officials have spoken out strongly against frivolous reports of clowns.
“We do not have infinite resources,” Lt. Steven Osborne, of the Winston-Salem, N.C., police department, said to Fox 8 on Sept. 9. In Winston-Salem — one of three cities in the Carolinas to first report the clowns — 24-year-old David Wayne Armstrong had been arrested and held on a $500 bond. Police said he filed a false report about seeing a scary clown.
“They are finite resources,” Osborne said. “And we need to be able to deploy them and utilize them for actual crimes and citizens that need emergency assistance.”
Even after the arrests and police warnings about false reports, the clown reports have displayed a meme-like persistence. Georgia Southern University recently dismissed a reported clown sighting on its Statesboro, Ga., campus.
“On Sunday, Sept. 18, Georgia Southern University Police received multiple calls regarding possible clown sightings,” according to a GSU statement obtained by the Statesboro Herald. “Officers investigated the complaints, but there were no actual sightings of clowns by witnesses, therefore these complaints are unsubstantiated at this time.”
Saban Films, which is distributing a new movie about scary clowns, cooled rumors that the clown sightings were a viral marketing stunt. A Saban representative told Reuters in early September the film was “not associated in any way with the creepy clowns and costumed characters found roaming the South.”