Several public safety concerns have risen up in the Hudson Valley area. Creepy clown sightings that began in South Carolina have now been reported several times in surrounding areas and Woodstock has experienced a flurry of bomb threats for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Beginning in August, a group of children near a housing complex in South Carolina reported clowns trying to lure them into the woods. Since then, hundreds of reports were filed across the eastern US of clowns peeking through windows, loitering under streetlights and peering out of bushes.
In virtually all cases, when police arrive at the scene, there are no clowns to be found.
The hysteria has led from everything to school lockdowns to the arrest of innocent clowns engaged in legitimate clowning.
Gary Jackson, head clown in charge at Clowns R Us in Highland, said that he is not concerned about his clowns being arrested since they have been in the area for a number of years and the local police know them. However, he is slightly concerned about travelling to venues a little farther away.
“We’re almost considering putting a little sign on our car that says ‘Don’t shoot, we’re on our way to a party,’” Jackson said.
Jackson also said that Clowns R Us recently worked a festival at a local school and the principal called to verify that their clowning practices were legitimate. Jackson said that he is sympathetic to the hysteria given clowns’ portrayals in many horror movies.
“Clowns, for a while, have been one of the top scariest things for kids,” he said.
In Saugerties, there have been at least three reports of suspicious clowns. On Thursday, Sept. 29 around 5 p.m. multiple subjects were spotted in clown gear at St. Mary of the Snow Cemetery in Barclay Heights.
Although there have been rumors of clowns appearing in and around New Paltz, University Police Chief David Dugatkin said that nothing has been reported to them. He said that if a report were filed, they would respond as they would to any call for service and would immediately send an officer out to investigate.
“It could be someone just dressed up in a costume, it could be anything, so right off the bat we’re not going to consider it a serious threat just because they’re dressed as a clown, but we would certainly immediately investigate it,” Dugatkin said.
New Paltz Town Police Chief Joseph Snyder also said that his department has not handled an incident with clowns to date.
Fourth-year French and communications major Sophie Constantino and her housemates live off-campus and are taking extra precautions in lieu of the rumored clown sightings.
“It’s obviously scary especially with Halloween coming up and the fact that people will be dressed up, even if it is just a prank, people could go too far,” she said. “We never walk alone, especially at night, and we’ve been really diligent about locking our doors and windows whether we are home or not.”
Both Snyder and Dugatkin expressed that simply the act of wearing a clown costume is not illegal and it would depend on the circumstances of the incident what the individual would be charged with.
“It would be the extra action whether a threat, some type of weapon or fake weapon, social media posting along with the costume that may appear to be a threat, etc.,” Snyder said. “If there are more actions as noted above, then they may be charged with menacing (misdemeanor) or if more severe action taken charged with making a terroristic threat (felony). Of course if the clown makes physical contact with someone or creates harm, they may be charged with Harassment or Assault.”