ELKTON — The nationwide craze known as “creepy clown threats” spurred a local investigation Friday after someone printed a copy of one of those vague, social media threats and it circulated around Elkton High School, police reported.
Investigators swiftly determined, however, that Elkton High School was not targeted — nor was it even mentioned — in the texted threat, police said. It proved to be just another in a long list of hoax cases that have plagued law enforcement agencies and school administrators throughout the United States since late August, police added.
“It was an ambiguous threat and it was not related to our schools whatsoever. There was no validity to it. It was just part of a phenomenon that unfortunately has been sweeping the nation. The hoaxes have occurred in something like 10 or 15 states,” said Capt. Joseph Zurolo, an Elkton Police Department spokesman. “They are false threats intended to create mass hysteria. There is no crime wave associated with them or anything like that.”
Kelly Keeton, a Cecil County Public Schools spokeswoman, amplified Zurolo’s assessment.
“Elkton High did not receive any threats nor were there any threats directed at Elkton High School,” she reported. “The clown rumors have been going around social media but were not specific to any school. Many states have been dealing with the same issue.”
In general, the “creepy clown threats” witnessed in Maryland and several other states have been made through texting and other “social media outlets,” including Facebook postings, and they typically have been accompanied by photos of menacing-looking clowns, according to Zurolo.
They have specified the day on which a creepy clown, or clowns, will carry out threats and some have identified purported targeted school districts and even schools in other jurisdictions, he said.
But mostly, they have been non-specific regarding the purported targets, other than referring to “schools,” he added.
“They say they are going to be doing X, Y and Z, threats like kidnapping students and killing teachers,” Zurolo outlined.
In the incident that triggered Friday’s local investigation, a threat that had been made through a texting app, Kik, was circulated through EHS, according to Zurolo, who noted that it referred to schools in general and, moreover, did not name any schools in Cecil County.
“Someone had printed out a copy of the text. It was floated around the school and it was brought to the attention of our school resources officer assigned to that school,” he explained.
EPD Ofc. James Roland, the EHS school resources officer, started an investigation and, as part of it, he “reached out to our sister (police) agencies” to see if they were aware of this particular, vague creepy clown threat, Zurolo reported.
As turns out, Maryland State Police detectives were aware of it and already had determined that it originated in Missouri and that it was later perpetuated by a text traced to Howard County, closer to home, he said. The threat had been deemed unfounded, he added.
The matter was resolved quickly and did not result in a lockdown at EHS or any disruption of school activities, according to Zurolo, who commented, “We learned of it around 7:30 that morning and within an hour it was determined to be a hoax that originated in Missouri.”
Zurolo warned that anyone caught making a threat, of the creepy clown variety or otherwise, will be “charged and prosecuted.” Likewise, the same action will be taken against anyone caught making false clown sighting reports, which also have occurred elsewhere in the United States.
“In other places, there have been false reports of people in clown costumes standing at tree lines, trying to lure children into the woods, and false reports of clowns attacking people,” Zurolo said, categorizing those reports as an offshoot of the creepy clown threats.
A recent USA Today article listed 19 states where there have been false or unsubstantiated clown sightings and, or, creepy clown threats that affected schools and college campuses, including Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
That USA Today article also cited several instances in which adults and children in various states have been arrested and charged for making false clown sighting reports and creepy clown threats, including a case in which a 10-year-old boy in Alabama was nabbed after allegedly threatening the school system.
Zurolo said he is aware that several people have been arrested in connection with making creepy clown threats and false reports of clown sightings in several states, including in Maryland, where threats have resulted in school lockdowns and heightened security in some jurisdictions.
The situation at EHS on Friday did not rise to that level, he emphasized.
Cecil Whig deputy editor Jessica Iannetta contributed to this article.