JMU students join together to search for on-campus clown that turns out to be a hoax
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Late Monday night, groups of JMU students embarked on what they called "clown hunting" to try and chase away a reported clown on campus.
However, according to JMU spokesperson Bill Wyatt, there was never any clown on the university's campus at all.
Several tweets with photos and video of a suspicious-looking clown put many students across campus on high alert, and launched an effort that brought together groups of students, allegedly carrying bats, who roamed the campus searching for the reported clown.
But, according to officials at JMU, the images which set off the situation were actually from another campus entirely.
One of them appeared to show a clown standing on the sidewalk, seen through the blinds of a window, in a short video recorded in Snapchat. We have not included that video due to vulgarity, but a tweet claimed that the video was from a JMU student housing complex.
Another photo, taken on JMU's campus, can be seen at the top of this article. A red circle was drawn around one part of the photo where the Twitter user reported seeing a clown. Due to the quality of the photo, however, no sighting of a clown in the image can be verified. We have not included the original tweet because the Twitter user wished to remain anonymous.
No arrests were made of a clown, and the university stands by the statement that there was no clown on the campus of JMU, despite student reaction Monday night.
These events come after weeks of what have become known as 'Clown Sightings' throughout the country. The trend began after initial reports out of South Carolina claimed that creepy clowns were trying to lure children into the woods. Since then, reports have sprung up throughout the nation.
The vast majority of 'clown sightings' have been proven to be hoaxes or never verified at all, although there have been a few situations of arrests made. At no point has anyone dressed as a clown actually harmed anyone, however.
Across the Valley, clown sightings have been reported from Waynesboro to Winchester. In Virginia, it is a Class 6 felony for adults to wear a mask in public that conceals your identity, although there are professional, holiday and medical exceptions.
One man was arrested in Front Royal for that offense.
Even situations such as this one, which was confirmed as a hoax, create major safety concerns for law enforcement trying to protect their communities. You can read all about the police perspective on these reports in the Related Stories section of this article.
If you do see anything suspicious, you're encouraged to contact police immediately to make a report, rather than first turning to social media. If possible, take a picture to verify your report, but focus on personal safety first.
"People get the idea that maybe it would be fun to dress as a clown or to try to scare folks and that's not something that if we think all the way through is probably the best decision right now, because you never know what's going to happen," Officer Brooke Wetherell, a community resource officer with the Harrisonburg Police Dept, told WHSV's Katie Caler last month.
Police say they have real safety concerns for both the people dressing up and the people they are scaring.
"Some of our biggest concerns right now is just keeping our residents safe and making sure people feel safe outside, especially in the evenings; the concern is that if you're dressed as a clown, people have legitimate fear of clowns," said Officer Wetherell.
Police said those fears could be harmful to the pranksters, and asks them to think twice before putting on a mask to scare people.
"There's just a safety concern all the way around, so our message to them would be to think it through before you decide to do something like this," Wetherell added. "It is illegal to wear a mask in public, and it's not kind to scare people."
We have covered situations related to 'clown sightings' in our area extensively, and that coverage can be found in the Related Stories section of this article or by clicking
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