School system warns parents following ‘creepy clown’ reports
Initial photo purported to be fake
A photograph of a purported “creepy clown” standing under a street light in the Gleneagles neighborhood caused somewhat of a public disturbance this week as the image took on a life on its own and rapidly circulated through the Charles County community on social media after one young man posted the image on Twitter. After many expressed concern over the image, Charles County Public Schools sent letters home to parents
regarding the incident, and the sheriff’s office has since determined the photo was a doctored image.
Police made the determination after interviewing the Twitter user, who told them he was just practicing his photo editing skills. While the joke may have been in poor taste, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said that the young man did not break any laws, as no threat was made.
Creepy clown sightings and reports of threats have become a trending topic in national news and social media with many alleged sightings across the country. In neighboring Prince George’s County, two juveniles were arrested and charged with threat of mass violence earlier this week after reportedly creating a clown-themed Twitter account and threatening to harm students and staff of Parkdale High School in Riverdale, according to a Prince George’s County Police Department release. Threat of mass violence, a misdemeanor in Maryland, carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
According to a letter from CCPS Superintendent Kimberly Hill, at 5 a.m. Monday, the former CCPS student took a picture of a person in what appears to be a clown costume standing under a streetlamp in the Gleneagles neighborhood in St. Charles.
On Tuesday, a Twitter user claiming to be the originator of the picture said he created the photo to “test my editing skills” and that he never intended it to be taken for real. He posted copies of the same picture with and without the clown.
As a precaution, the school system sent a letter Monday informing parents to neighboring schools St. Charles High School, Milton Somers Middle School and Mary B. Neal Elementary School.
The letter stated that the Maryland Center for School Safety has issued an alert due to nationwide “creepy clown” threats via social media to other Maryland school districts and high schools.
On Tuesday, Milton Somers Principal Carrie Akins sent home a letter alerting parents that a student had left a picture of a clown in a bathroom with the message, “We are here, be ready.”
Also on Tuesday, Benjamin Stoddert Middle School Principal Kenneth Schroeck reported three students were caught attempting to scare others on the bicycle trails and behind a mobile classroom using an old man mask.
In both cases, principals said that appropriate disciplinary measures will be taken.
The Stoddert letter also said that at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, several students reported seeing a person in a clown costume on school property. The letter said the school resource officer checked the grounds and the neighborhood, but was unable to confirm the report.
On Wednesday, La Plata High School Principal Douglass Dolan sent parents a letter stating that a parent had forwarded a social media threat purported to be from a clown. Dolan stated that the school found no validity to the posts and students were in no danger.
According to the school system’s 2016-17 Code of Student Conduct, making a false threat of a school shooting or bomb threat is a Level 4 or Level 5 offense, the two most serious categories, and examples of punishments can range from short term suspensions to long-term suspension or expulsion and/or referral to law enforcement.
“Please talk to your children about how to recognize suspicious behaviors and the importance of reporting such activity immediately to school authorities or the police,” Hill said in Monday’s letter. “Please also remind children they should not start rumors about clown sightings as a joke or to scare someone, nor participate in any such related pranks.”
In addition to causing public panic, the purported creepy clown sightings have been damaging and hurtful to the professional clown community. Waldorf residents Teresa and Bob Gretton, perhaps better known as Blondi and Bunky, explained how the hoaxes have impacted them.
“We just want it to stop. We just want to go back to bringing joy to people like we’re used to doing,” Teresa said. “… We see how its affected our entire clown community. It’s very far reaching.”
“And clowns are now, in many ways, in fear themselves,” she continued. “They don’t know what might happen to them. You know, clowns are for one purpose: to generate fun and joy.”
Teresa also noted that she knows other professional clowns who have had performances cancelled due to the hysteria.
“I just wish there was a way to stop it.”