Clowns cause trouble near universities

Many in the campus community might be concerned about the clown craze sweeping the U.S., but officials say it has yet to reach the university. 

“There have currently been no reports (of clowns) on the UNA campus,” said Chief of University Police Kevin Gillilan in an email.

However, Gillilan said students need to be aware of the recent reports of clown pranks and threats. 

The clown threats are disturbing since clowns are supposed to be kid-friendly, said sophomore Ashlee Romer. 

“People associate clowns with fun and laughter,” she said. “At the same time, some people are terrified of them. These clowns can lead to psychological problems, especially for someone who sees them while driving. They could have a breakdown.”

Gillilan said at a September conference with local law enforcement, officers in Lauderdale County said they received reports about clowns, but no one was convicted of a crime. 

“People said they would see clowns, and the law enforcement would follow up on it, but they didnít find anything,” he said. 

Many universities have had clown scares, including Auburn University. 

Auburn University Public Safety received reports of people dressed in clowns on campus Sept. 19, according to their Facebook post. However, upon responding, they found no clowns, and said they “were not aware of any danger or threat to our campus community.”

In the Auburn case, as with Pennsylvania State University in early October, there were reports of students looking for, or “hunting,” clowns, although there were no verified sightings, according to both universitiesí police. 

If students do spot clowns on UNAís campus, vigilante justice is not the appropriate response, Gillilan said. 

“It is the job of law enforcement to investigate and bring to justice those who violate the law ó this includes those taking the law into their own hands,” he said. “Officers are trained to deal with these types of situations and equipped to bring them to safe resolutions. It is never recommended to place yourself in potential danger to investigate or respond to any incident.”

In another Alabama case, an adult, Makayla Smith of Flomaton, and three youths created Facebook accounts with fake names “FLOMO KLOWN” and  “Shoota Cllown,” which they used to threaten individual students, the Flomaton school system and the city. This caused Flomaton high and middle schools to go on lockdown for hours.

Although some might think social media threats do not heed the same repercussions as in-person ones, that is not the case. 

“Any student directing a threat toward another would be subject to arrest and sanctioning through student conduct,” Gillilan said. “The criminal charge and sanction would depend on the level of the threat. The criminal charges could range from harassment (misdemeanor) to making terroristic threats (felony).”

As Halloween approaches, students might decide to dress as clowns. Arx Mortis owner Vinny Grosso said clown masks have been the most purchased items in their gift shop. 

“My advice to students choosing to do so would be to be aware that the general public may become nervous of anyone wearing a mask or face paint, and some even suffer from phobias related to clowns,” he said. “I would not recommend driving a vehicle or entering a place of business while wearing a mask.

“Generally speaking, it is much safer to wear a costume only in places where it is permitted and in the company of those who know you personally. It is best for everyoneís safety that pranks be avoided as well.”

Many videos on social media, whether staged or authentic, have shown clowns with weapons. However, even if a student wears the costume and brings a weapon as a prank, it still breaks university policy. 

“Weapons are banned from campus and may result in arrest and sanctioning through student conduct,” Gillilan said.