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Clown chaos leads to school closings, felony arrest

Dayton Public Schools put a middle school on lockdown Friday, a Cincinnati school district closed for the day, and Fairborn police made a felony arrest as a nationwide spate of clown-related threats and hoaxes continued.

Wright Brothers Middle School on Huffman Avenue went on lockdown and sent a notification to parents because of social media posts alleging clown activity involving the school.

The worry stemmed from reports in multiple states of people in clown garb attacking or chasing people, while others have joined in by making a series of hoax threats and reports.

DPS spokeswoman Jill Moberley emphasized that at Wright Brothers there were no actual sightings of people in clown gear. That was not the case in the Cincinnati suburb of Reading, where a woman reported being attacked at 2:30 a.m. Friday by a man in a white mask and red wig who threatened to harm students at Reading schools.

That led Reading to close all district schools Friday.

“We take all threats to the safety of our students seriously,” Reading school officials said in a statement. “We were especially concerned with the number of students who walk to school in the early-morning hours.”

In Fairborn, a social media account using a clown persona had threatened to kill students as they left school. Police said Friday that they arrested a 15-year-old male at Fairborn High School on a felony count of making terroristic threats.

The Dayton lockdown was just a precaution, but it had people on edge. Wright Brothers Principal Shawna Welch was seen walking the exterior of the school around 1 p.m., and the school secretary fielded a series of calls from parents, reassuring them that students were fine.

Some parents were confident Friday’s lockdown was the result of a hoax. But others were nervous, citing everything from terrorism to recent attacks on students in Dayton.

“You hope it’s a hoax, but if it’s not, it’s kind of concerning,” said David Brunsman, who was picking up his son from Wright Brothers. “I take anything deadly serious about my kids. I’ve heard in other states that (clowns) have resorted to violence.”

Clown violence

The clown reports started last month in South Carolina, where several children reported seeing men in clown masks lurking in the woods near an apartment complex. Two teens in Virginia face charges for chasing children while wearing clown masks. And police near Lexington, Ky., say a man in a clown mask grabbed a woman Thursday night and attempted to pull her off a walking trail.

Locally, a woman in Franklin and a man in Greenville both reported being chased by people dressed as clowns this week, with the Greenville man saying the two clowns hit him.

After that incident, Darke County Sheriff Toby Spencer posted a warning on Facebook that a clown prank could go very wrong: “For you that think it’s funny to dress up as a clown, scare drivers on dark roadways … as of today we have issued 6,125 (concealed carry) permits in Darke County alone. You might also ask yourself how your luck will be today.”

Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones said his office has added patrols at schools and bus stops, and he encouraged the public to report any suspicious activity.

“We have received information that there are groups of people in different areas of the county that are advertising their intentions of scaring kids,” Jones said in a post on the sheriff’s office Facebook page. “It appears at this time, the groups are mostly comprised of juveniles.

“I am urging parents to speak with your children and tell them if they involve themselves in criminal behavior, they will be arrested and charged accordingly.”

Popular masks

With Halloween about four weeks away, Mike Foy, owner of Foy’s Halloween Stores in Fairborn, said clown masks have grown in popularity over the past decade. Foy said he sells hundreds of clown masks every year, with prices ranging from less than $20 all the way to $600.

“I believe that’s what makes clown masks popular, because anybody can afford a nice clown mask,” he said.

Kim Phillips, a South Vienna resident shopping at Foy’s, said the creepy clowns are getting out of hand. She suggested that parents probably will be extra cautious with their kids on Halloween if they see someone dressed as a clown — a sight that would be normal without these incidents.

“I think they’re really ruining it for the kids and parents,” Phillips said.

Foy said, for the most part, the clown sightings are not a big deal.

“I think it’s getting a little exploited,” he said. “Evidently, Clinton and Trump aren’t doing anything to get on the news so now we’re talking about clowns instead.”

This story contains information from The Associated Press.

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