Clown hysteria spreading, Illinois not immune

Rachael Mowrer

Staff Writer

William Colbrook, Parkland College, Prospectus News, Rachael Mowrer

Photo of Parkland’s Chief of Police William Colbrook in front of the public safety office

Reports of clowns—some armed—stalking people and attempting to coerce children have popped up across the United States, and Illinois is no exception.

Media outlets have christened the mass-hysteria as the “great clown craze of 2016” or some variation of this phrase. Social media has exploded with reports of sightings and attacks and people joking about, condemning, or even supporting the clown craze.

The first official report of this type of incident in the U.S. was of people dressed as clowns trying to lure children into the woods with money outside the small town of Greenville, S.C., and since then reports have kept coming in.

Some of these so-called clowns have been spotted with chain saws, bats, pistols, tear gas, hammers, knives, and so on.

Schools have been put on lock down because clowns are making threats to both students’ and teachers’ safety over social media. The clowns terrorizing these schools have been known to text their victims on their cell phones ask them if they are “ready to play with them” and then go on to threaten them.

Recently, a junior high school in Bloomington, Ill., was put on lockdown because of threats over social media. Two Illinois State University students reported seeing people wearing clown masks sitting in their cars. There have been many more reported sightings in Central Illinois in the past two months.

A school in Connecticut has gone as far as to ban wearing a clown costume because it is seen as a symbol of terrorism. Students from Penn State have been known to go what they call clown hunting, where groups of students chase and assault people dressed as clowns in the interest of public safety.

Police agencies around the country say it is getting harder for them to find the actual culprits because of the numerous false reports, as well as teenagers dressing up as clowns to prank people, that have happened since the media started showing clown terrorism.

Law enforcement across the nation is strengthening security and increasing patrols. Police aren’t only worried about the increasing amount of clown reports; they are also worried about citizens taking the law into their own hands, like the aforementioned clown-hunters on college campuses.

William Colbrook, chief of Parkland’s Public Safety, stated his belief that we should not be afraid of these clowns.

“From the information that I have read in commercial media and law enforcement intelligence briefings, there is little truth that persons dressed in clown masks have done much harm to individuals,” Colbrook said. “There are documented cases of persons wearing clown masks in order to create a stir in their community or even to intentionally alarm people. In some of those cases, when these individuals are located, they have been arrested and charged.  Locally, there have not been any verified cases of people wearing clown masks.”

There exists a hypothesis that these clown sightings are all a hoax used to advertise Stephen King’s horror novel “It” that is in the process of being adapted into a major motion picture for a second time.

Even if this were true, there are copycats taking things to the level of illegality. They are chasing people with weapons, threatening people, following people to their homes, and terrorizing communities.

On Sept. 27 in the city of Reading, Penn., a 16-year-old boy was stabbed and killed during a fight. The police are looking into reports that the culprit was wearing a clown mask.

As Halloween approaches, you may be asking yourself, “What can I do to keep me and my family safe?”

Colbrook recommends simply staying aware of your surroundings. Projecting a strong, confident persona, such as walking quickly with determination, is an oft-recommended deterrent to would-be muggers or sexual assaulters.

Self-defensive objects are always an option, but police and related experts urge prudency and a cool head when handling any sort of weaponry in a personal protection capacity and to take steps to deescalate an encounter—like removing oneself from the situation as quickly as possible or calling the police—before weapons leave their pockets, purses, or holsters.

Civil protection authorities recommend to always have your phone on your person, avoid unlit areas or alleyways, walk in groups of two or more, make certain someone knows where you are going.

Like each and every Halloween before, police encourage people to be especially careful during this year’s holiday.

If you ever feel like you’re in danger on Parkland’s campus, the college’s trained, armed police officers can be reached at (217) 351-2369.