Crime - Sacto 911

Creepy clown hysteria worries police, actual clowns

Threat posted on Instagram that targeted students and teachers at Marysville-area schools.
Threat posted on Instagram that targeted students and teachers at Marysville-area schools.

Creepy clown hysteria hit Sacramento this week – just as Halloween fright season begins – with schools across the region reporting threatening messages from people calling themselves clowns, an 8-year-old boy in Galt chased home by people in clown costumes and a boy arrested in Marysville.

Scores of law enforcement agencies across the nation have reported menacing behavior in recent weeks by people purporting to be clowns, both online and in real life.

The law enforcement community isn’t laughing. “I don’t think it’s funny at all,” said Lt. Christian Sachs of the Marysville Police Department.

On Friday, the Marysville Police Department announced it had arrested a 12-year-old boy on felony charges. Police said the boy, dubbing himself “mozzytheclown,” posted a list of Marysville schools on Instagram and said he would roll dice to decide which one he would visit to “shoot up all the kids and the teachers.” All the schools were placed on a “soft lockdown” Thursday in response to the threat.

On Wednesday, a Galt boy was chased home by two people wearing clown masks. That incident came a day after the Elk Grove and Natomas Unified school districts sent letters to parents informing them of “School Hit List” published on Instagram by a user named “Sac.townclowns.”

Sachs said call volume to his police department has increased in recent days as people report seeing scary clowns. Most of the time, officers haven’t been able to locate a clown when they arrive. Officers did, however, suggest to one man walking around Marysville in a clown mask with his wife and children that he rethink his brand of humor.

In the case of the 12-year-old boy who was arrested, the police did not recover weapons from the home – or a clown costume.

“We take all these threats seriously,” Sachs said.

The wave of clown terror is worrying actual clowns who depend on landing entertainment gigs to pay the bills. It also has the potential to affect the way the nation celebrates Halloween, the annual embrace of all things creepy. Will fright houses ramp up the use of scary clowns or avoid using clowns altogether? Will parents allow their kids to dress up as clowns?

Novelist Stephen King may have done more than anyone to propagate the idea of creepy clowns through his novel “It,” which features a demon who takes the form of a child-killing clown. Now King is calling for an end to the wave of clown fear.

“Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria – most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh,” King wrote on Twitter earlier this week.

Sacramento part-time clown performer Sue Schooley said she’s worried the people posing as creepy clowns are ruining it for real clowns – the kind who make their living by entertaining people.

“This is very sad. There are many professional clowns that take their art seriously,” said Schooley, a government worker by day who started clowning at age 13. “This is giving professional clowns a really bad name. It has the potential to hurt people’s livelihood.

“Some teenagers think it’s funny and a joke, but it’s serious,” said Schooley, who performs as Nene the Clown.

Clowns in Tucson, Ariz., have gone so far as to schedule a “Clown Lives Matter” peace walk on Oct. 15. “This is a peaceful walk to show clowns are not psycho killers. We want the public to feel safe and not be afraid. So come out, bring the family, meet a clown and get a hug!” the online flier reads.

Schooley said a small percentage of kids have always been scared of clowns – a fear dubbed coulrophobia. The seeming proliferation of intentionally creepy clowns could lead fewer parents to hire a clown for an event, she said.

Two Sacramento area haunted houses appear to be taking different approaches toward the use of scary clowns this Halloween. A spokeswoman for Dire World, at the fairgrounds in Roseville, said it won’t be using any creepy clowns to scare guests.

“We don’t have any creepy clowns,” said Abigail Carpenter, a spokeswoman for the seasonal attraction. “We are not going to exploit people’s fear in that way.”

They will instead employ zombies, an execution chamber and an insane asylum to incite fear, she said.

“I do hope that it comes to a close quickly,” she said of the clown terror wave. “I would hate for it to hurt the clown industry or the haunt industry.”

Over at Cal Expo, the Fright Planet haunted house appears to be taking a different approach that embraces the clown hysteria. Fright Planet representatives could not be reached Friday, but the attraction’s website features a red-haired clown with blood staining his white ruffled bib, gloves and teeth.

“Shh... we’re back!” reads the caption.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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