BLOOMINGTON — The “scary clown” phenomenon apparently made its way to Central Illinois this week as most local law enforcement agencies have been asked to investigate clown sightings.
“In the past week, there have been reports in up to 10 states of people having frightening encounters of subjects dressed as clowns,” Bloomington police said in a statement Tuesday. “The clown trend isn’t funny. It’s an attempt to create fear in the community.”
There have been no substantiated claims locally of anyone dressed as a clown committing any crime as of Tuesday, but police note it takes officers' time to investigate them.
At Eureka College, all evening classes and activities scheduled to start after 4 p.m. Tuesday were canceled as a safety precaution after officials were made aware of a social media threat involving people dressed as clowns. activities were scheduled to resume Wednesday.
Extra patrols were sent to Bloomington Junior High School on Tuesday morning after a social media report that clowns were going to cause trouble, said Bloomington Police Sgt. Henry Craft.
“We determined that there was no real threat,” he said. “But obviously we have to take extra precautions when we receive that kind of information. This was probably a situation of kids playing jokes on each other.”
Bloomington District 87 school Superintendent Barry Reilly said a parent of a student informed district officials about the threat early Tuesday.
“A resource officer at the high school worked with our junior high school resource officer, our director of safety and security, Bloomington police and our administration,” he said. “We discovered that it wasn’t credible and they will continue to track down the source of this.
"I hope they find them so they can be held accountable.”
In an incident Monday night in Normal, two Illinois State University students told police they saw two men in a car wearing clown masks.
“They were walking and reported that a car drove by and the men used some weird voices to ask them to get into the car,” said Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner. “They didn’t, but notified authorities and we located the vehicle a short distance away.
"The occupants said they were just out goofing around," he said. "The victims didn’t want to pursue charges, so we just admonished them to knock it off.”
On Sunday night, DeWitt County deputies were called to the spillway near the Clinton Lake dam after receiving a report of a clown who had jumped out at a male.
No clown was ever found, said DeWitt County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Mike Walker and investigators believe the call may have been a hoax.
“This all seems like a lot of nonsense, and I guess the point is just to scare people,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Illinois State University Police Chief Aaron Woodruff said there have been no other reported clown sightings on campus, aside from the one investigated by Normal.
“What we often see in situations like this is that someone heard it from a friend who heard it from someone else who saw it on social media,” he said. “We investigate every report, and if there is a credible threat, we will issue a campus alert. But, the problem is that it takes time away from investigating other matters.”
Clown sightings and threats have been reported across the country and appear to be increasing each day. Several area departments sent out statements Tuesday morning, informing the public that they will continue to investigate all reports.
“It’s not illegal to wear a mask in public,” Craft said. “However, if you are using it while committing a crime, then it compounds the crime.”
Bleichner said if someone uses a mask to “alarm or disturb” someone, they can be arrested for disorderly conduct.
“This behavior isn’t funny,” he said.
Bloomington police are asking the public to help by not sharing reports of clown sightings on social media.
“Do not share these stories,” the department said in its news release Tuesday. “Doing so just adds to the volume of work already being created from existing posts.
"Current posts and reports have already impacted our operations as well as other local organizations.”