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Social media fueling creepy clown hype in Utah, police say

The recent hype of creepy clown sightings that have affected many cities across the United States has reached Utah.
The recent hype of creepy clown sightings that have affected many cities across the United States has reached Utah.
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OREM — The recent hype of creepy clown sightings that has affected many cities across the United States has reached Utah.

And already, Orem police are tired of it.

"It's to the point that honestly, we're sick of talking about it," said Orem Police Lt. Craig Martinez.

Various national news publications have put the number of states reporting clown problems at between 10 and 30. In some cities, schools have closed because of reports or suspicions of threatening clowns. NBC News reported that 12 people had been arrested as of Saturday in Georgia, Alabama and Virginia for making false reports of clown threats or chasing people while costumed. Most of those arrested were juveniles.

In Utah, the clown hype picked up significantly this week with reported clown sightings in Orem, Provo, Roy, Ogden, Kaysville, Lehi, Murray, Tooele and West Point.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Eastmont Middle School in Sandy sent a letter home to parents informing them that "the creepy clown phenomenon sweeping the country has come to Eastmont Middle. On Tuesday afternoon, we were alerted to an Instagram account that was titled 'William.the.Killer.Clown.' A picture of our school, along with some threatening language, was on the bio section of the account."

The picture has since been deleted. School officials said while the incident is likely a "hoax," they have to take safety seriously and an extra Sandy police officer will be at the school Wednesday.

In Provo, Police Sgt. Brian Taylor said investigators were looking into a woman's report that someone in a clown costume ran through her yard a few minutes after midnight Monday. The incident occurred near 600 North and 1150 West.

No threats of violence were made, and Provo police don't have a detailed description of who may have been wearing the clown costume, according to Taylor.

"This is something that's got people on edge," he said. "It's just causing people alarm. We get that. So we're paying attention, we're watching closely."

As of Tuesday, all of the other reported sightings had been confirmed to be false, according to various police agencies.

Despite that, several police departments have been forced to issue statements to reassure members of the public who are on edge because of the clown hype. Martinez says most of the hype can be blamed on social media.

"It starts on the East Coast and just eventually makes its way back here. That's what it is, it's social media and then you have copycatters, and people think it's funny, people think it's a joke to do this kind of thing," the lieutenant said. "We're not getting reports from people. We're getting inundated with Facebook messages and calls into dispatch."

In Orem, a social media post started a rumor that a clown was assaulting people at Mountain View High School on Monday, Martinez said.

In Ogden, a Facebook post referencing a threatening clown prompted Gramercy Elementary School and nearby Mound Fort Junior High School to issue a lockout, meaning nobody outside of the school was allowed to enter.

"At this point, the police have not found anything to cause us to believe this was a legitimate or credible threat. The Facebook page from the suspect has been disabled and the photos the suspect used were ones readily available on the internet," Ogden police said in a statement.

Likewise, Kaysville posted a message on its Facebook page Tuesday stating: "There have been no sightings of clowns in Kaysville. We have had people come forward with social media posts that have to do with clowns. No schools are in lockdown or lockout, and no threats have been made toward specific people or schools."

In Lehi, there were rumors that a clown had stabbed a child. Police said those rumors are false.

Roy police also posted a Facebook message to dispel rumors of clown threats in their city. Officers also warned that if someone is in a clown costume and out purposely being reckless, intentionally harassing someone or creating a "hazardous situation," they can be arrested for disorderly conduct.

On Tuesday, Tooele police noted on their Facebook page: "Social media has caused quite a stir for our community today. Worry, even panic, as parents read about 'clown' sightings or comments made on various social media outlets."

But like in Orem, Tooele police said none of those reports were made directly to police.

"We are not currently investigating any cases involving clowns in our area. We have confirmed with the Tooele County School District that none of our area schools have been placed on lockdown or lockout," according to police.

Martinez suspects most of the clown hype is being caused by juveniles or young adults in their early 20s who are bored.

"All this is doing is making it so kids have something to do," he said.

The problem with tracking down the source of the person or the copycat who is starting the clown rumors is that people have multiple and fake social media accounts, he said.

Iconic horror author Stephen King, who wrote about a terrorizing clown in the novel "It," took to social media on Tuesday to address the clown hype that has gripped parts of the nation.

"Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria — most of 'em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh," King tweeted.

With Halloween approaching, police want to remind the public to use common sense.

"Here's seven words we never thought we'd be saying: 'Let's have a serious talk about clowns,'" Orem police wrote on their Facebook page Monday.

"Please remember that everything you read online is not always true."

Contributing: Ben Lockhart


Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam