Clown hoaxes force police to check pranks for real threats

Reports of menacing clowns have been spreading across the U.S., fueled largely by social media, and authorities say they are being forced to take them seriously as a potential threat to public safety, particularly at schools.

Several hundred University of Connecticut students gathered late Monday in a cemetery, ready to do battle with clowns they had heard might be lurking among the headstones. Police determined that the rumors were a hoax.

Connecticut state troopers say the pranks waste resources and distract from real emergencies.

Similar incidents have been reported at schools across the country, including Penn State University, where more than 500 students showed up early Tuesday to hunt for clowns.

Sociologists say the seemingly silly panic is actually a new twist on a phenomenon as old as witch hunts.