Clown ‘sightings’ in town

Published 10:34 am Thursday, October 13, 2016

Though Farmville police have responded to two separate calls of suspicious clown sightings, both have been “unfounded,” lacking “credible information.”

The first call of a suspicious clown came Sunday at 8:37 p.m. at Wilck’s Lake near the town’s skate park on West Third, said acting Capt. and Special Operations Lt. William H. “Bill” Hogan. The second came hours later, at about 12:20 a.m. Monday at Sunchase Apartments off East Third Street.

The reports come after security at Cumberland County Public Schools was beefed up by school officials and the sheriff’s department following a suspicious Instagram post — and after Buckingham Sheriff William G. “Billy” Kidd Jr. issued a press release saying there are no “Killer Clowns” in the county following about “24 calls on this clown business and it’s tied up resources and the phone lines.” Kidd called the clown sightings “rumors.”

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The first call in Farmville, at Wilck’s Lake, came from someone “reporting a suspicious individual in clown attire,” Hogan said.

After responding to the call, officers determined the report to be “unfounded,” according to Hogan.

“We could find nothing — no one to substantiate any kind of person in a clown outfit. It actually was reported to us third-hand from someone who was told about it by someone who claims they saw it an hour earlier.”

Hogan said officers checked the area and “didn’t see anybody suspicious. And they did note that they had talked to the witness that called it into us, and determined that they actually didn’t see anything.”

He said the allegation made its way to social media, “where it started spreading.”

The second call came just under four hours after the first.

It was reported that a “subject in a clown outfit and a mask (was) behind one of the buildings behind Sunchase,” Hogan said.

“We talked to multiple people. Nobody, no witnesses were found that said they actually saw anything.”

Police did stop one vehicle, Hogan said — one they may have thought “was involved. It was not. They cleared it up, unable to locate any reliable witnesses.”

The reported clown sightings have become a nationwide issue, even spreading to England, according to media outlets.

“We would respond to any suspicious-clown call (just like) we would respond to any suspicious individual,” Hogan said. “Officers are going to go there, they’re going to check it out, they’re going to talk to witnesses (and) they’re going to look for the individual. But, we have to keep in mind that these clown sightings are part of a nationwide phenomena right now, most of which have all been debunked and deemed unfounded.”

Most of the panic from the reported clown sightings comes from social media, Hogan said.

According to the Code of Virginia, it’s illegal for people 16 years and older “with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood or other device whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer, to be or appear in any public place, or upon any private property in … Commonwealth without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing.”

One of the provisions of the law, though, applies to people “wearing traditional holiday costumes.”

Violation of the law could result in a Class 6 felony charge, according to the code.

“Should we find somebody that’s doing that, and it meets the criteria for the laws, they could be charged,” he added.

The two calls the department has responded to, he said, “is what’s being seen all over the country … Most of them are unfounded.”

“But we have to take every call seriously until we find out exactly what it is,” Hogan said.