Why is everyone clownin’ around? Forensic criminologist Dr. Ron Martinelli spoke with Us Weekly about the recent sweep of “killer clown” reports terrorizing the nation.
Martinelli tells Us that America’s current pop-culture obsession with gory TV shows with creepy characters — such as The Walking Dead and American Horror Story — is partially to blame for the bizarre phenomenon. Season 4 of AHS featured a nightmarish clown named Twisty (played by John Carroll Lynch) and a reboot of Stephen King’s 1990 It movie (based on the 1986 book of the same name) is in the works.
“We’re seeing an increase in the types of television programming that involve more of this scary stuff,” the Temecula, California-based expert explains. “We’re getting that type of thing. That’s what I think is bringing this up.”
When it comes to the type of person who would choose to pose as a terrifying It-like character, Martinelli tells Us that a likely culprit is a “sort of shy person” who dresses as a red-nosed villain because it “allows them to assume a different persona … where they can have power.”
He adds: “That’s the power of fear. So they feel that they can control that narrative or control people by fear.”
As previously reported, residents in Kansas, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Colorado, Alabama and Mississippi have reported clown-related incidents.
In Kansas City, Kansas, police had to post a message to their official Facebook page to reassure residents that there’s no real threat of clowns. “There have been no actual sightings of clowns trying to abduct children in in the KCK area. Please be aware that there may be copycats incidents but there has been no credible sightings at this time. As of now it is just an internet hoax,” the message read.
Though some of the incidents turned out to be hoaxes, one of them ended fatally. Last month, a 16-year-old high school sophomore was stabbed to death in Reading, Pennsylvania, by a man in a clown mask. A suspect, Avery Valentin-Bair, was arrested on first-degree murder and other charges in connection to the crime, the Associated Press reports.
The most recently reported creepy-clown attack occurred on Friday, September 30, in Reading, Ohio. Schools in the suburban town were closed after a clown made a veiled threat to students while attacking a woman on her front porch. Kim Youngblood, 45, told police that she was outside of her home around 2:30 a.m. when a man in a white mask, red wig and striped costume grabbed her by the throat, the New York Post reports. “I should just kill you now,” the clown reportedly told the victim before adding, “Some students and teachers would wish they were never born at the junior and senior high school today.” The clown was then startled by a nearby noise and released the victim before running off.
Martinelli tells Us that it’s possible that many of these criminals are copycats who have been influenced by each new report that has grabbed headlines.
“If there’s some bizarre thing that happens, people read about it and learn about it some way and they want to copy it,” he says. “So why do they do that? This allows someone to have their 15 minutes of fame.”
In regard to individuals who have perpetuated this frightening phenomenon online, Martinelli tells Us, “This is no different than Big Foot. … Of course, you got your people doing the crazy-clown thing, then you got natural hoaxers, people that just do it for a sense of humor. There’s nothing criminal about it, there’s no evil to it. They look at this and it’s funny to them to create that type of hoax.”
Whether these clowns are kidding, Martinelli is warning parents of young children to be cautious — especially as Halloween approaches, when it will be hard to tell a good clown from a bad one.
“Of course parents need to be watching their kids all the time,” he cautions. “We just live in a different time, different atmosphere, where we really just have to keep an eye on our kids.”
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