Police concerned about safety with reported clown sightings

Published: Sep. 23, 2016 at 6:38 PM EDT
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From South Carolina to Kentucky, and even in the Valley, terrified community members have reported seeing clowns in the woods and along roadways, trying to scare them. Local police say this truly is no laughing matter and could actually result in criminal charges.

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.

Brooke Wetherell, a community resource officer with the Harrisonburg Police Dept., said: "Being a clown as a profession, is obviously not illegal, but using it to scare folks and other tactics that we're seeing in other parts of the us are concerning, that if something like that were to happen here, there are some safety issues that would concern us."

Harrisonburg police have one had one call that could have possibly involved a clown, but reports of others making their way through social media are adding to people's fear.

"I understand that there are great fears that some people have which is another reason why unless you have some reason to be in a clown suit, you probably shouldn't be getting on this bandwagon of people who are just scaring others for fun," said Officer Wetherell.

Officer Wetherell added,"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."

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."

If you are planning your Halloween costume, that is one of the holidays that is exempt from the law, and you will be able to wear a mask. People under the age of 16 are also exempt from the law.

Police say these sightings are difficult to verify, so if you do see something, try to take a picture or video.