A social media- and hoax-fueled frenzy over clowns allegedly threatening children and schools across the nation spread to Sonoma County this week, but local officials said they had not confirmed any genuine threats.
The superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools said in a Thursday message to families that city schools had been subject to clown-related social media threats believed to be a hoax. And the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety on Friday announced it had recently investigated several clown “reports and sightings,” none of which were “legitimately criminal.”
The reports come as furor over “creepy clown” sightings — driven by the internet and social media — has swept the country in recent weeks, particularly after Greenville, South Carolina, residents complained in August about clowns trying to lure children into the woods, according to BuzzFeed News.
“Clown hysteria” has since spread to upwards of 20 states and nearly 30 people have been arrested “in connection with clown hoaxes, social media threats, robberies, or stabbings,” BuzzFeed reported. Entire Twitter accounts and hashtags are dedicated to the craze.
The Santa Rosa City Schools message from Superintendent Diann Kitamura said city schools had worked with the Santa Rosa Police Department to investigate threats on social media that were apparently a hoax. Anna-Maria Guzman, a city schools assistant superintendent, said there was a clown-related social media incident involving Herbert Slater Middle School, but she could not provide specifics because it was still under investigation.
“We want you to know that we are taking steps to ensure that all students, parents and staff feel safe at our schools,” Kitamura said in the message.
Meanwhile, in Rohnert Park, authorities investigated about nine clown reports and sightings in recent days but had not identified a credible threat, according to Cmdr. Jeff Taylor. One instance involved a man who simply had a clown mask in his car, Taylor said.
“It’s just growing legs, but we’re investigating everything, because God forbid that one of them is legitimate, everybody ignores it and we didn’t do anything,” he said.
Steve Jorgensen, superintendent of the Windsor Unified School District, also sent a message to families Thursday saying the district was following “the recent wave of social media posts” threatening clowns would do harm at schools. Jorgensen said the district had not received any such reports within its boundaries.
He said in an interview that parents were calling with concerns about the general trend, so the district sent the letter as a proactive measure. John Laughlin, assistant superintendent in the Special Education Services Department at the Sonoma County Office of Education, sent a similar message to special education staff.
Education officials all reiterated the “if you see something, say something” message, encouraging students and parents to report any suspicious activity.
The issue has already surfaced elsewhere in the Bay Area. Earlier in the week, a woman in Concord reported that a man in a clown suit tried to pull her 1-year-old daughter away from her at a bus stop, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And social media reports of potential sinister clown activity at Antioch and Oakland schools led to police investigations, the East Bay Times reported.
The White House addressed the clown frenzy recently when Press Secretary Josh Earnest, responding to a question from a reporter, said local law enforcement should “carefully and thoroughly review perceived threats” to their communities.