Officials: Clown threats at Shen no laughing matter

Shenendehowa Central SchoolShenendehowa Central Schools. Photo by Marc Schultz.

Gazette Reporter

Four Capital Region schools took precautions Monday after being named in a threat from a “clown” Twitter account over the weekend, according to the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department.

The Shenendehowa Central School District and North Colonie’s Shaker High School were among them. The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department would not release the names of the other schools, but said numerous patrol cars were at all the threatened locations.

The Shenendehowa Central School District opened its doors to students Monday morning after a thorough security sweep.

“There have been a variety of news reports lately about a very bizarre situation that is happening across the country. There has been an increasing presence of ‘creepy clowns,’ and threats have been made towards schools on social media by ‘The Clowns,’ ” said Shenendehowa school officials in a prepared statement early Monday.

Later Monday, an individual wearing a clown mask was reportedly seen walking near Shenendehowa’s soccer field.

According to a statement released from the school district Monday evening, a man contacted the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department shortly after 6 p.m. to report his son saw a person with a clown mask near the soccer field.

The Sheriff’s Department conducted a search of the nearby woods with a K-9 unit, several deputies and the state police aviation unit. The investigation is still ongoing.

“The district takes this matter very seriously and will have additional security guards on 24/7 as well as a continued police presence,” read a statement from Shenendehowa’s school district Monday evening. “School will commence tomorrow as usual. All the buildings have been notified and will be searched again prior to the start of the school day.”

The statement continued, “When the individual is identified, the district will ensure that criminal charges are filed. We ask parents to discuss the seriousness of these actions, whether a prank or not, with their children.”

On Sept. 26, a suspicious clown was seen outside a Clifton Park apartment complex, prompting residents to call police. Four separate sightings were reported to police in the town of Amsterdam on Wednesday.

The Shenendehowa school district said Monday it was informed by the Sheriff’s Department of the threat at midnight, adding that the Sheriff’s Department is investigating.

Citing the “non-specific nature” of the threat, the district conducted classes as usual.

“However, staff will exercise due diligence until this investigation is complete,” school officials stated in their prepared statement early Monday before the clown sighting. “All buildings and buses were swept for any foreign objects this morning prior to staff and student arrival as a precaution. There will be increased police presence at all buildings throughout the day, possibly K-9 dogs.”

North Colonie Central School District was notified of a threat to Shaker High School made from a “clown account” around 11 p.m. Sunday evening. Classes began as usual after multiple searches of the buildings and surrounding area showed the threat was not credible, district officials said.

Lt. Robert H. Jillson said the Saratoga Springs Police Department did not arrest anyone dressed as a clown over the weekend, though someone reported five or six individuals near Saratoga Springs High School dressed as clowns who gathered around a newspaper delivery vehicle and banged on it.

According to the police report, the individuals were small-framed. Jillson asked that those who are engaging in these activities reconsider the consequences of their actions, and he advised concerned community members to report any suspicious activity.

Unsettling clown sightings have not been isolated to New York. The strange trend appeared in the southern part of the nation this summer and has since spread rapidly.

While simply dressing as a clown is not against the law, a New York Times story reported that individuals dressed as clowns in South Carolina allegedly tried to lure children into the woods this summer.

Randy Christensen, president of the World Clown Association, released a statement Sept. 13 saying, “Anyone doing this is not a clown. If someone was dressed up like a police officer to gain someone’s trust … then tried to kidnap a child, they wouldn’t say, ‘A police officer kidnapped a child.’ They would say, ‘Someone impersonating a police officer kidnapped a child.’

“This is somebody who is trying to use a good, clean, wholesome art form, distorting it, trying to gain access to a child.”