Clown hysteria is showing no signs of slowing down. On the contrary, the frenzy seems poised to take a deadly turn.
What began as spooky news of clowns terrorizing a South Carolina neighborhood has evolved into national -- and international -- sightings, including some in which clowns have been seen sporting weapons or trying to scare children. Various schools have shut down due to clown-related threats, and some have banned clown costumes from any Halloween-related activities.
Citizens have begun to fight back, showing pranksters and clowns they are not amused by the growing "scare" phenomenon. A woman in Auburn, Maine, reportedly chased off a sinister clown after pulling out a 9mm pistol.
The woman, whose identity was kept private, told the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal a clown threatened her while she was sitting on her porch. "He had a red Afro wig on and a red nose. The smile was creepy -- the painted-on one," she told the paper.
The clown proceeded to make a gun with his hand and point it at her. The 49-year-old woman was armed with her own legal firearm and pulled the weapon out -- spooking the clown off.
"I picked up my 9mm," she said. "I didn't point it at him directly, and said, 'Back at ya, clown.'"
"Professional clowns hope our businesses are not significantly impacted by the nastiness of a few demented individuals," a working clown told LifeZette.
A similar incident was reported by KFDA in Pampa, Texas. A man was working in his garage when two people dressed as clowns walked onto his front lawn. He told them to leave, but they kept walking toward him. He got out his own pistol and fired a warning shot -- motivating the clowns to scamper away.
While it's hard to tell how much of the clown phenomenon is based on overhyped stories and false reports (many online videos have been debunked), there is no doubt recent incidents have put a not-so-favorable spotlight on the clown industry and professional clowns. Their relationship with the public is at risk.
That relationship is so frayed that a "Clown Lives Matter" walk originally scheduled for Oct. 15 in Tuscon was canceled. "This is a peaceful walk to show clowns are not psycho killers. We want the public to feel safe and not be afraid," said a Facebook post before the cancellation. "So come out, bring the family, meet a clown and get a hug!"
But the march was called off due to "numerous death threats and harassment," said organizer Shelly Gutierrez in a Facebook post. She told news station KGUN9 she would plan another event "when things settle down a bit."
In Arizona, there have been several clown sightings around the University of Arizona and threats made to Phoenix and Mesa schools. Five teenagers were detained on suspicion of being behind the threats. Some had criticized the planned march for being insensitive to both recent news and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Clown Lives Matter march may have seemed like a joke on the surface -- but a case could be made for it. Threatening clown incidents have not only grown increasingly violent, they've also spread across the pond.
Sightings in England have led to arrests and even an assault on a prankster. Also, a man has been making headlines for dressing as Batman and chasing off clowns in Cambria, England. A group calling itself Cumbria Superheroes is reportedly behind the effort. In the midst of these crazy stories, professional clowns who have nothing to do with the mayhem are unfortunately the silent victims.
"I truly hope these creepy clown incidents do not continue. All of the professional clowns hope this quickly comes to an end so that our businesses are not significantly impacted by the negativity and nastiness of a few demented individuals," Debi Saylor Pierce, aka New Mexico's Twinkles the Clown, told LifeZette.
"There is definitely the potential for danger to those of us who are professional clowns," she added, "whose only intention is to provide wholesome entertainment and fun."
Chris Fratello, aka Shorty the Clown, said, "Anyone committing a crime -- trespassing, robbery, or whatever -- is not a clown. If someone commits a crime against another person, mask or not, they alone are responsible for the consequences of their own illegal actions. Unfortunately, professional entertainers are bearing the brunt of this social phenomenon."
While both Pierce and Fratello say the phenomenon will likely soon blow over, some believe it's going to get worse before it gets better. The Maine woman who needed a 9mm pistol to scare off her own threatening clown told the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal about the delirium, "It seems like something bad is going to happen."