Four area school districts are investigating possible social media threats made in a two-day period by what district officials are calling “creepy clowns.”
Waco, Robinson, Connally and Gatesville Independent School Districts have increased security presence on campuses and around schools after receiving information about social media posts stating an intent to harm students. This isn’t the first rash of incidents involving terrorizing clowns, but the incidents are some of the first reported in Texas.
The impulsive nature of adolescents, combined with poor judgment and the lengthy cultural history of using innocent or happy objects to frighten people may be playing into the spate of clown incidents across the nation, said Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist based in California who consults on criminal and civil cases across the country.
“I think of the ‘Chuckie’ horror movies and the ‘Children of the Corn’ movies,” Meloy said. “The shock of the benign becoming dangerous is very frightening. The joyful ocean beach vacation becomes a predator’s hell: ‘Jaws.’ ”
Waco ISD police and district officials have been investigating a social media threat made on Facebook Thursday night by someone dressed as a clown in their profile picture saying they plan to harm students at Waco High and University High on Friday.
“First we going to Waco high then we going to university and we gone kill everybody,” the post states. It also shows a profile picture of a clown holding a knife.
Waco ISD police were questioning two people Friday morning who investigators believe have knowledge of the source of the threat, but they have since been released, Waco ISD spokesperson Bruce Gietzen said. One of the two questioned is a student, but Gietzen could not confirm whether the other is also a student.
He said district police have been working since about 9 p.m. Thursday to identify the source of the threat but have not found the person responsible as of noon Friday.
“We take every threat against our schools and students very seriously, and even though we have no indication that this one was credible, our officers went on alert status and increased presence and patrols today at those two campuses and in nearby areas,” Gietzen stated in a press release. “The threat was similar to a series of ‘creepy clown’ hoaxes around the nation recently. Many of those targeted schools, and to our knowledge, in every case those turned out to be false.”
However, across the nation, students and adults have been arrested in connection to the growing trend in clown- related threats and attacks, according to multiple media reports.
Robinson ISD Assistant Superintendent Tim VanCleave said the district was alerted to a similar “creepy clown” threat about 7 a.m. Friday. It’s unclear whether the threat may be connected to the one with Waco ISD, but it mentioned the two Waco schools and Robinson ISD, VanCleave said. The district has been working all day with school resource officers and local law enforcement to investigate the matter and make sure campuses are safe, he said.
“At this time we haven’t found any credibility behind it, and we take all these situations as seriously as we can and we look into it and see what we can find out,” VanCleave said.
A local agency notified Connally Police Department of the threats to other schools, but there was no direct threat made to Connally ISD on Friday morning. But, the district took a proactive approach as a precaution and Connally ISD police officers are actively working with other local law enforcement agencies to investigate the posts, Connally ISD spokesperson Anna Sanchez said.
“At this time, the district has not received any credible information to facilitate a lockdown of CISD campuses,” a Connally ISD Facebook post read. “Connally ISD police will remain diligent in their investigation to find the origin of the posts. Student safety is a high priority for Connally ISD, and we will do everything possible to protect our students and staff.”
Incidents and scary clown sightings have been reported in at least 10 other states, according to USA Today. Some involved clowns hiding in wooded areas near apartment complexes in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, the article states.
Another recent incident came from Corpus Christi on Thursday when a middle school student was removed from a campus after making a social media threat encouraging others to dress as clowns and commit acts of violence, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
“Scaring and being scared can deviate into threats that spread like contagion due to poor judgment,” Meloy, the forensic psychologist, said. “Don’t ever underestimate the impulsivity of adolescent and young adult males.”
Meloy said the imitation of others’ behavior is part of normal development and plays a role in cases like the threats seen in Waco. Meloy is an expert on personality disorders, psychopathy, stalking, narcissism, criminality and targeted violence.
Just outside McLennan County, Gatesville Independent School District officials were made aware of reports Friday of a “scary clown abducting individuals,” the district posted on its Facebook page.
“We are monitoring the situation and patrolling the area in conjunction with local police,” the post states. “At this point all reports are unsubstantiated. Please contact the schools or local authority if you see anything suspicious.”
Some parents have expressed concern and taken students home early for the day, Gietzen, of Waco ISD, said. Others, including local attorney Melissa Waden Wray, said she let her daughter continue the day as normal because she trusts district officials to be on top of the incident and take appropriate steps. Wray’s daughter alerted her to the post Friday morning on the way to school and she was concerned, but not panicked, she said.
“I am aware that these types of threats are typically not carried out, and the school shootings that have occurred in recent years were not, to my knowledge, preceded by threats,” Wray said. “I told her to report it. She did, and the district was already aware of it and investigating. It appears the district is doing everything it can to secure the campus and protect the students.”
For Robin McDurham, a Waco ISD assistant superintendent and former professional clown, the situation sends a chill down her spine, she said. McDurham became a professional children’s entertainer to help her pay for college, often attending birthday parties and hospitals as a clown or fairy princess before she moved to Waco 16 years ago, she said.
“It’s all over the place, and it’s unfortunate. It’s like Chuckie or the little bizarre dolls or the things related to childhood, or in my case, celebrations, get twisted and turned around,” McDurham said. “It gets attention. Clowns get attention, and it’s unfortunate because schools have to take every threat seriously. We’ve had our folks working on this, and it puts a chill down your spine anytime there’s a threat. It’s not funny. It’s criminal and it’s not OK.”
Waco ISD will have an increased security presence on the campuses until the issue is resolved, Gietzen said. It’s possible whoever posted the threat may have seen a viral clown post district officials were already aware of, involving a clown standing under a street sign from Waco, Kentucky, he said. The person may have spotted the Waco, Kentucky, clown post and used it as an opportunity to bring the ‘creepy clown hoax’ to Waco, Texas, he said.
“We want to assure parents our campuses are safe, and we are taking extra steps to make sure that continues. Again, we strongly believe this threat was part of this online series of hoaxes,” Gietzen stated. “This is a prime example of the power of social media, and that power is not always used in a good way and can create fear and uncertainty. There have been arrests in some of those earlier threats, and that could be true in our case, too, along with criminal charges.”
Gietzen said the district will keep parents informed on this case and any other necessary information through social media and the district’s website.