‘It’ factor: Will new movie revive NJ ‘creepy clown’ scare?
Panicked 911 calls. School lockdowns. Fruitless manhunts. And nearly a dozen arrests.
Who could forget New Jersey’s great creepy clown scare of 2016?
With the release next week of the horror movie “It” — based on the Stephen King thriller about a nightmarish clown — some police departments are worried about a different kind of remake.
The Pennsylvania State Police this week issued a public notice warning about potential “creepy clown” sightings in the weeks ahead and to encourage people to report suspicious activity.
Last fall, police departments across the country were inundated with calls about sightings of creepy clowns. The first supposed sightings last year may have been in North and South Carolina during August. New Jersey sightings began shortly after the State Police's Facebook page shared a photo of Pennywise the clown from the 1990 "It" miniseries.
State Police haven't repeated that this year. They told NJ.com they're reminding families to focus on basic back-to-school safety.
While some people last year may have sincerely believed they saw something, most of the cases were unsubstantiated – a result of what social scientists call mass hysteria fueled by movies, TV shows and social media.
In New Jersey last year, police charged nearly a dozen juveniles with lying about seeing clowns or for posting online threats with clown imagery.
The scare, which lasted through the fall and prompted some police departments in the state to ask people not to dress up as clowns for Halloween, was not the first time a clown panic hit New Jersey.
New Jersey had been part of another wave of clown sightings that spanned the country in the 1980s, coinciding with the “stranger danger” panic of that decade. Clown reports made a comeback in New Jersey in the late 1990s.
Last year’s panic wasted countless hours of police manpower and led to juvenile charges against numerous pranksters. Among them:
— A 13-year-old Mays Landing boy was charged with third-degree terroristic threats and false public alarm.
— A 14-year-old South Toms River girl was charged after lying about being chased by a clown.
— A 12-year-old Toms River girl was charged with posting online threats against a school from an account called “Killerclownfromnj"
— Lower Township police charged an 11-year-old girl with harassing another child with a clown text.
— Officials in January filed charges against a 14-year-old boy in Linden accused of posting clown kill threats against students and teachers back in the fall.
— A 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy in Washington Township in Gloucester County were charged with cyber harassment for making online threats against their school.
— Deptford police also charged two juveniles with false public alarm in response to clown sighting calls.
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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email email@example.com.