School sys­tem warns par­ents fol­low­ing ‘creepy clown’ re­ports

Ini­tial photo pur­ported to be fake

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU and AN­DREW RICHARD­SON jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­ arichard­son@smd­

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.”

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