A twisted form of Trick or Treat seems to have come early to the Kentuckiana area as well as many other states around the country in the form of scary clown pictures being posted online.
What started as a prank has mushroomed into a serious threat of violence against local schools in Washington County.
The situation is no joke to the police, especially over the last 24 hours.
According to the Salem Police Department, a threat was reported to a local officer Tuesday after 7p. Police began investigating and by 10p, Salem Schools had sent out an automated message to parents and staff regarding “heightened” security in place for Wednesday.
Police have come to the conclusion that the “threat” was a hoax, but still are looking for the person or persons who started all this.
“It’s the ‘in’ thing to do now, to take pictures of scary clowns and post them on social media,” said Salem Police Major Detective Scott Ratts.
According to Ratts, things actually got started locally a few weeks ago after a man who wanted to scare his aunt, purchased a cheap mask from a department store and posed for a picture near the Bradie M. Shrum Elementary School sign. He later posted that picture on her social media page.
Someone with the screen name of Anonymous The Klown started as a general threat that has morphed into a threat against Salem Middle School.
“Anonymous took that picture from a social media site, started his or her own account called Anonymous the Klown,” Ratts said. “This person started friending others on social media and soon the chatter turned evil. And Anonymous is using this picture; unknown to the person who tried to scare his aunt.”
Police have contacted officials at Instagram to enlist their help on tracing the origin of the account and the contact information for who it is registered to.
“The guy sees the picture and sees it associated with this Anonymous the Klown,” said Ratts. “He comes in to the police station last night and says, hey, that’s my picture on there, but I didn’t make any threats.”
Ratts said Anonymous has stolen other pictures of other clowns and using it for evil purposes on the Instagram page.
This is where the story gets confusing because the original threat was vague and did not detail any school in the area.
Ratts said the original threat read: “I hope the clowns go to the school and kill everyone.”
The threat doesn’t mention any school by name in Salem or Washington County.
“Then people posting messages around social media begin making threats against Salem and Springs Valley,” said Ratts. “In the meantime there are clown pictures that have popped up in Jeffersonville and in other counties. Not the same one that has popped up in Washington County.”
When asked if the person who posted the original clown picture with Bradie M. Shrum School in the background was dangerous, Ratts answered: “Absolutely not. I do not think he will cause any harm in Washington County. His picture was ripped off. I think when the dust settles, it’s going to be multiple people. With the current trend of using clowns to scare people, I don’t think it’s one kid pranking all of Southern Indiana.”
Ratts said Salem Police began interviewing students about the incident and who Anonymous The Klown is.
“We talk to one and they say it could be this one, and we talk to that one and they say it could be someone else…it’s a big circle,” Ratts said.
“First and foremost this is serious,” said Ratts. “When you threaten someone’s life it’s a terroristic threat.”
He said this is a Felony and penalties involved for a terrorist threat typically include jail time.
Anyone convicted of a misdemeanor offense for making a terrorist or criminal threat faces up to one year in a county jail.
For a felony conviction, a court can impose a prison sentence of a year or more.
THE THREAT IS EVER-CHANGING
Ratts explained that the threat has changed over the past 24 hours and continues to evolve.
“On this Anonymous The Klown Instagram page, somebody posted, bring it on clowns….I hope I see one, I’ll chase them. Another person said, I hope he hits Springs Valley,” noted Ratts.”
At one time, Ratts said, the Anonymous the Klown page was linked to a young lady at SMS. The link has since been removed.
“We were interviewing her and her father today and things were being posted while we were sitting there in front of her, so we know it’s not her,” he said.
“Anonymous has posted other pictures of other clown pictures — not just the guy from Bradie M Shrum. It’s turned into all this,” said Ratts.
Ratts said there was another user that turned up in the investigation – CLOWN POP UP. In fact, four accounts have been discovered so far.
Assistant Police Chief Tim Miller noted this afternoon that increased security will be in place at all three Salem schools this week or until someone is found to be responsible.
“This will be the safest week ever,” said Ratts. “We’re taking it very seriously. And I’m extremely impressed with the school system. I feel very confident with the personnel we have stationed at the schools and with the job they’re doing.”
Other accounts in other counties are being tracked, said Ratts.
According to a Jefferson County Public School spokesperson, a potential threat was made on social media today regarding Farnsley Middle School and Moore High School. The photos on social media featured clowns.
JCPS believes the threats were hoaxes, but the district is taking the situation very seriously. As a precaution, both schools will be operating on heightened security for the remainder of the day.
A JCPS spokesperson said in both cases they believe they know who is behind the threats. Louisville Police is handling the threats at Moore, and the threats at Farnsley are being handled by the school.
Because the investigation is ongoing, the nature of the threats and the content of the messages have not been released.
Other threats were made on Tuesday evening to school districts in Clarksville and Jeffersonville.