Scary clown

A bat-twirling clown was nowhere to be found when Lincoln police were sent to Wilderness Park Monday afternoon.

But someone did tell dispatch they saw him -- or her -- about 3:45 p.m.

Even if officers had found a clown, it’s possible they wouldn’t have been able to do much.

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“It’s not illegal to dress as a clown,” Officer Katie Flood said Tuesday.

However, if someone dressed as a clown is threatening someone or acting suspicious, people should call police.

Since August, people in at least 20 states have reported seeing scary clowns, some of whom have threatened people or tried to lure children into the woods, according to news reports. Police nationwide have encouraged caution amid reports of clowns acting suspiciously.

In Grand Island, Police Capt. Jim Duering said police have investigated three separate incidents since Friday in which clowns threatened or chased people.

The first happened at 9 p.m. Friday just south of downtown. On Saturday, someone reported knife-wielding clowns about 8 p.m. in nearly the same place. And on Sunday afternoon, police got a report of a third sighting, this one involving a BB gun.

“The juveniles were copycatting what they were seeing from social media posts and media stories about clowns,” he said Tuesday morning. “They went too far and actually caused some fear in some of the people they were terrorizing, and they were brandishing weapons ... luckily no one was hurt."

Grand Island police cited four people -- ages 14, 15 and 16 -- and referred them to the Hall County attorney’s office.

"This was not your normal Halloween prank given the current atmosphere surrounding clowns and the fact they brandished weapons," Duering said. 

In Lincoln, the Wilderness Park sighting was the first report Lincoln police got.

On Tuesday, scanner traffic indicated a woman heard a banging on her back door and saw a clown mask tapping on a window. She ran into the basement and called 911.

Other reports of clowns seen across town have been posted on Facebook, including claims of sightings near 84th Street and Cornhusker Highway Wednesday night and near Northeast High School.

Capt. Jerry Plessel with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department said someone reported a clown on campus just after 10 p.m. Wednesday. There were no threats and no clown was found.

"It looks like it was some kind of prank, someone wearing a clown mask," he said. 

Tuesday morning, Lincoln Public Schools sent an email to all parents assuring them they'll take any reports of clown sightings seriously. 

"At the same time please know: We have excellent security measures in place at all of our buildings and we work closely with our school district security director to ensure the safety of all our students," the email says. 

The email also reminds parents that LPS policy prohibits students from wearing clown outfits to school.

Spokeswoman Mary Kay Roth said the system wanted to stay on top of any possible rumors, and in a Tweet, La Vista's police chief said, "In these times of instant information, please don't perpetuate the stupid rumors."

The Omaha Police Department said while there's been no actual sightings in Omaha, investigators have looked into online threats from people dressed as clowns.

While some people might think it's fun to dress up like a clown and scare people, Teresa Forst, also known as Shades the Clown, says the practice is hurtful to her and other professionally trained clowns. 

"It really hasn't affected my business yet, I have things booked in advance, but it has the potential to affect our business later," she said Tuesday. 

Forst said the new scary trend is heartbreaking to those who spend their lives trying to make others happy. 

"There's so much negativity in the world," she said, addressing the people who are dressing up to imitate clowns. "You're just creating fear. Let's make this a happier world and not bring people down, especially when you're doing it on purpose. ... It doesn't do any good."

Forst belongs to many online professional clown groups and said they're lending each other their support. 

"People are saying, 'Don't lose heart, just keep doing what you're doing. Keep making people happy.'"

As a professional, Forst said, she's spent numerous hours in education classes and in her free time, she learns new skits, how to make new balloon animals and new face painting techniques. 

"We put a lot of time and effort into our art," she said. "We don't want it to go sour on us, we want to keep making people happy and bringing smiles to people who are hurting. ... The people doing evil clown stuff, they're not clowns. They're just dressed up in costumes and we have nothing to do with any of them."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7395 or nmanna@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNicholeManna.


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