In the midst of creepy clown sightings and hoaxes being reported across the country, O’Fallon Police said it recently received a call of a person running around wearing what appeared to be a clown mask, while Belleville Police said threats were made online to area schools in relation to the clown craze.
The alleged sighting report came in around 1 a.m. Wednesday to the O’Fallon Police Department, according to Capt. James Cavins. Police said a resident from Castle Acres, a mobile home park, reported that a person wearing an “alleged clown mask” ran into the mobile home park from the area near Aldi. Cavins said police did not find anyone matching the description, and that no other reports have been received since then.
However, chatter on social media have also indicated that so-called “scary clowns” have been spotted in and around O’Fallon neighborhoods.
Similar reports were taken last month in Granite City when police there said they’ve received between five and eight reports of clowns being spotted in the city. But police later said that they suspected the clowns were youths who didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
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Granite City was among the police agencies around the country that have encouraged caution amid reports in a number of states of people dressed like clowns and acting suspiciously.
Meanwhile, the Belleville Police Department posted on its Facebook page Monday that it had received “numerous” calls of people concerned about online social media threats in relation to the clown craze. Police said the threats were targeted at Belleville schools, but police did not identify which schools were targeted specifically.
“We are aware of online threats targeting Belleville Schools and have been in contact with the school’s administration,” the post read. “The Belleville Police Department is taking these threats seriously and will have an increased police presence at the schools. We ask the public to contact the Belleville Police Department if they see anything suspicious or if any direct threats are made.”
Belleville School District118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said he had called police Monday morning after he said his office received a phone call from a concerned parent. Klosterman said the parent “indicated that their child saw a Snapchat of a Twitter post” on “something about coming to ‘east, west and central schools.’” The post also mentioned McCluer North High School in Florissant, Mo., he said.
According to the superintendent, the username of the original poster had a reference to clowns.
Klosterman believed the post was referring to nearby Hazelwood School District, and he said he has not seen or heard threats that address Belleville schools. However, Klosterman said he has asked staff “to be vigilant and report anything suspicious.” He said police officers stopped by the schools on Monday in response. The superintendent said he was considering sending a message to parents Monday so they would be aware.
Belleville Township High School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the staffs at Belleville East and Belleville West high schools were asked to have “a heightened sense of awareness about this issue.” Dosier said there had been no specific, credible threats against either school. He said he is in daily contact with the Belleville Police Department about the issue.
“There is a balancing act here,” Dosier said. “We have a school to run. We have students and teachers who have important work to get to. We want to keep the interruptions at a minimum. We want to give the issue the attention that it needs.”
Belleville Althoff High School Principal Dave Harris sent a robo call to parents at the end of the school day Monday about the clown situation.
“Today on social media, the craze going across the country with clowns trying to scare people made note that they were going to target the three high schools in Belleville,” Harris said in his voicemail. “As soon as we were made aware of the situation, we asked students to stay in the building during lunch and asked the police department to show some presence on our campus.
“We were not on an official lock down. We continued with classes but wanted to reinforce to our students that today, like any other day, the doors needed to remain shut at all times so outsiders don’t wander into the building,” he said.
O’Fallon Township High School Superintendent Darcy Benway said Monday that while the school hasn’t received any reports of clown sightings, security will remain “at the highest level.”
“There has been recent information in the news about reported clown sightings and threats against schools. These reports have gained interest on social media and may be a topic of conversation being discussed among student(s). OTHS has received no reports of any threat against its school buildings or inhabitants,” Benway wrote in an email to parents.
“As always, the safety of students and staff are our top priority. OTHS keeps buildings secure at all times and restricts public access to interior areas of the schools while classes are in session. In addition, student parking lots are monitored before and after school to provide security for our students who drive to campus. OTHS will continue to be diligent in following all safety protocols.”
Hazelwood officials reported over the weekend that the district had received a social media threat against several of its schools, and said on Sunday the threat appeared to be connected to the “national craze of creepy clown hoaxes and sightings.”
The school district, one of the largest in St. Louis County, said it informed parents and staff of the “social media hoax” through phone calls and emails, and it said it was working with local police to investigate the threat.
“We will have extra police, and an increase of adult presence as an added precaution in our buildings,” Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart wrote on the district’s Facebook page. “We must take all threats seriously, and will always take the steps necessary to ensure the safety and security of our students and staff.”
Some information for this story was provided by BND reporter Don O’Brien.