SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Just when we thought 2016 couldn’t get any weirder, the clowns came. Beginning in South Carolina with unsubstantiated reports that clowns were trying to lure children, clown-mania swept across the country, leading to reports of scary and dangerous clowns and threatening social media postings made by “clown” accounts.
Though mostly considered a hoax, this has resulted in several arrests stemming from terroristic threats made on social media. Additionally, as hysteria continues to rise, school districts and police departments are left trying to calm frayed nerves while educating the public about responsible social media activity.
This ongoing clown madness has even affected the two towns. The Maplewood Police recently Department released a statement discussing “clown sightings” in Maplewood.
“There have been many clown sighting and pranks throughout the country,” the Maplewood police statement read. “The Maplewood Police Department has received two reported clown sightings in town. After investigation it was determined that one did not occur and the second one was unable to be substantiated.
“There has been no threat to any of our schools; however, the police department and school officials are remaining vigilant and are working together to ensure a safe school environment,” the statement continued. “Maplewood Police are conducting extra periodic patrols at all of our schools.”
On Oct. 5, the South Orange-Maplewood School District released the following statement to parents:
“You may have seen recent media reports of ‘clown threats,’ including on high school and college campuses across the country. All of our administrators are aware of the issue and we have been in contact with our local law enforcement partners. The police chiefs have assured us that officers are assigned to provide extra attention to our schools to ensure student and staff safety as they monitor the situation. If you see anything suspicious, please contact the appropriate police department or call 9-1-1.”
The South Orange-Maplewood School District did not reply to requests for comment.
The threat may go beyond unsubstantiated lurings and prank threats though. According to West Orange Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky, this new threat opens the door for more general discussions about Internet safety.
“In line with social media safety, I was notified (Oct. 4) from a superintendent of schools in Morris County that a suspicious individual is trying to contact students via social media under the name ‘Lauren Ann Viper,’ specifically on instagram,” Rutzky wrote in on Oct. 4 letter to the WOSD community. “Please discuss this with your children and check their accounts to make sure they have not made contact with this person. It is very important that we continuously remind our children to never give out personal information online.”
The Maplewood Police Department is also encouraging parents to speak with their children about social media safety.
“Parents are urged to speak to their children about the seriousness of reporting false information to school officials and/or the police,” the department wrote in the statement. “They should also be discouraged from and made aware of the seriousness of posting any type of Internet post that could be construed as a threat.
“Obviously, if a clown is observed in an area where one would not normally see one, it should be reported and will be investigated by the police department,” the department concluded. “In the event that there is an incident that involves any threatening or possible criminal activity, such incidents should also be reported to the police immediately so that they may be properly investigated.”