By Tim Nazzaro
Over the past few days, clowns have been popping up on college campuses throughout the Northeast in an attempt to scare the holy hell out of everybody. So far, it’s working.
The “clown craze” started in late August in Greenville County, South Carolina. The report stated that a person wearing a clown costume was spotted near an apartment complex, trying to lure children into the woods. Since then, sightings have moved up the East Coast and eventually, into our backyard.
Just this past Tuesday, Merrimack College was put on lockdown because of a suspected armed gunman dressed as a clown. The students were told to shelter indoors for about two hours and were given the “all clear” late that night. The sighting was reported by a faculty member who saw on the Twitter page Clown Watch that an armed clown was coming to her campus.
“[My first thought was] oh wow, this isn’t a joke anymore,” said Merrimack student Brendan Collins. “I was like, yeah, OK, all this clown nonsense is getting old. Then all of a sudden there’s cops walking around with AK-47s. I couldn’t believe it.” Collins described the atmosphere on campus as one of confusion, stating that nobody knew how serious it really was. “There were people crying,” he recalls. The situation has since been deemed a hoax.
Similar sightings were reported on the campuses of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of New Hampshire the very same night, although the sightings turned out to be a hoax in both cases.
“We urge all community members to report suspicious or concerning activity to the university police department, or the city police department for incidents occurring off campus,” says Fitchburg State Chief of Police Michael Cloutier. Although there have been rumors, he says that to date, there have been no such incidents of clown sightings on or around campus.
“I think the only reason it’s big is because of social media,” says Fitchburg State student Kevin Fitzmaurice. He has a point. Just as of this morning, “Clown Lives Matter” is the No. 15 trending topic on Twitter in the United States. There have also been multiple Twitter and Facebook pages dedicated to the Clown Watch. Connor McNabb, a fellow student, calls the whole situation “ridiculous.”
Whether you choose to engage in the social media hype or not, the Fitchburg State Police Department has this warning: “Social media posts that incite violence or allude to creating fear will be handled appropriately. Those, including students, who falsely report an incident for the purpose of causing a disruption or undue alarm may face disciplinary action and/or criminal charges.” Internet trolls, beware.
With campus safety in mind, Cloutier encourages students and staff to download RAVE Guardian, a free mobile app that turns your smartphone into a personal safety device. “With Guardian,” he says, “users can create a profile of information about themselves, and invite family and friends to their safety network. When needed, the user can request one or more of their Guardians to virtually walk with them on or off campus. It’s like having an emergency blue light system and a trusted friend with you at all times.”