S. Carolina police chief vows arrest of anyone dressed as clown after suspicious incidents

© Jose Cabezas
A South Carolina police chief says anyone dressed as a clown is subject to arrest following reports around the community of suspicious incidents involving people dressed as clowns, one of which concerned an alleged attempt to lure children into a forest.

During a news conference Thursday which addressed at least four recent reports of clown sightings around Greenville, South Carolina, Police Chief Ken Miller said that his department would begin enforcing a state law that bars anyone older than age 16 from publicly concealing their identity with items such as a mask for non-employment matters. He also cited a Greenville ordinance that prohibits "molesting, disturbing or following persons."

"It's illegal. It's dangerous. It's inappropriate, and it's creating community concern so it needs to stop," Miller said, according to Greenville Online.

Miller's announcement follows several reports of suspicious encounters and sightings of clowns in the area, many of which occurred at apartment complexes. Not all reports have been verified by local law enforcement. 

The Greenville County Sheriff's Office, the Greenville Police Department, the Travelers Rest Police Department, and the Spartanburg Police Department have all received reports of suspicious events involving clowns, according to local reports.

"This is something that we're taking very seriously, especially because of the allegations of people dressed in clown outfits trying to lure children into the woods," said Master Deputy Ryan Flood of the Greenville County Sheriff's Office, according to Greenville Online.

On August 21, a group of children reported seeing clowns in the woods bordering Fleetwood Manor apartments in Greenville. They said the clowns were holding green lasers and cash in an alleged attempt to lure them into the woods. Greenville police were not able to verify the claims, even with the aid of video surveillance. The apartment complex's property management later sent a letter to tenants warning them of the incident and to never leave children "alone at night, or walking in the roads or wooded areas at night."

At first, I thought he was telling a fib and I said, ‘Go in the house and we'll talk about this again,’ because I didn't want it all over the place,” Fleetwood Manor resident Donna Arnold told WYFF. The next day, “there was like 30 kids that came up to me and said, ‘Ms. Donna, Ms. Donna, there's clowns in the woods.’ My child was with me, so I knew they had to see something. There was more than one kid that seen them, so I feel confident that he was telling the truth.

Another resident told police that her child saw several clowns by the woods that were “whispering and making strange noises.” 

Other sightings include clowns reportedly attempting to photograph children, walking in someone's backyard, and staring at a woman while she was inside a laundromat, according to WSPA.

Chief Miller said Thursday that in each encounter in Greenville, the clowns never attempted to verbally communicate with anyone.

"They only stand in an area to be seen and watch the reaction of individuals," he said.

Local law enforcement agencies said they are increasing patrols in areas where sightings have occurred.

One theory has attached the sightings to the upcoming release of the film "31," a horror movie directed by Rob Zombie that includes a roster of murderers dressed as clowns. Miller said he didn't know if the sightings were connected to the movie, or if someone is "somewhat politely terrorizing" the community.

Kelly Monfort, owner of clown-for-hire business Over the Top Entertainment in Greenville, said he hopes the sightings are just antics and not a serious problem. He said he believes the sightings are connected to some type of marketing strategy.

“I believe there is a chance that it could be a big publicity stunt for someone, a haunted house or some sort of production that will be coming in the next few months,” Montfort said, according to CNN.

Community activist Bruce Wilson, of the group Fighting Injustice Together, called on anyone responsible for the clown encounters to stop "before someone gets hurt."

“We plan to publicly ask whoever is behind this senseless action of scaring child to stop before someone gets hurt,” Wilson said, according to CNN. “We will also be asking law enforcement, both Greenville city police and Greenville County Sheriff’s Office, to increase patrols in these neighborhoods and to ensure that officers do not simply sit in patrol cars but actually walking the perimeter of these apartment complexes.”