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Cracking down on funny business: USU police get serious about clown phenomenon

By Hannah McDonald
Oct. 6, 2016

The national clown-sighting phenomenon has reached Utah State University, where police have so far responded to three calls about clown-related incidents.

“I don’t know what’s brought this on,” Utah State Police Captain Steve Milne said. “We’ll continue to follow up on each and every one, but at this point there’s no criminal violation.”

Ethan Muhlestein, a freshman majoring in wildlife science, was the second student to contact the university police.

Muhlestein was driving a friend back home to Valley View Tower, near the campus center, around 1 a.m. on Tuesday when he saw an oddly dressed individual standing with another person.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘This doesn’t look right,’” he said. “So I flipped the car around and shined my brights on both of them, and there was just this clown that was holding something in his hand. I assumed it was his mask. There was another car in the parking lot, and he started to shine his brights, too. We saw the clown and another man running across the grass at Mountain View Tower and then they were gone.”

Muhlestein’s friends convinced him to call the police about 45 minutes later.

“When I talked to authorities about it, they said there was another sighting at the Living Learning Community with some guy in a mask hiding behind buildings and trees and waving at people,” he said.

The third call Milne mentioned concerned videos and pictures students saw on social media. Freshman Bradley Vernon posted a nine second video of a clown near Mountain View Tower on the university’s incoming freshmen Facebook page on Monday, but it has since been removed. 

Milne clarified that police never encountered any threats or violence in any of the calls they received, but he encouraged students to exercise good judgment.

“We do investigate each one,” Milne said. “So it does tie up our resources from law enforcement to take time to investigate these, and maybe those resources could be used better elsewhere. We just ask people to think twice before they run around dressed as a clown.”

The local clown sightings are part of a nationwide trend that started more than a month ago.

Reports of clown sightings began on Aug. 29, when apartment residents in South Carolina called the police about a clown who was lurking around the complex. About a week later, North Carolina residents complained about clowns loitering in residential areas. Subsequent reports were filed in Georgia, Alabama, Pennsylvania and about 32 other states.

Ogden was the first city in Utah to report clown sightings, locking down two of its schools after threats surfaced on Facebook. Since then, Orem, Roy, Lehi and Tooele have all reported clown sightings.

Logan police took to Facebook yesterday, writing that the department is taking these incidents seriously and plans to hold any responsible parties accountable for their actions. Anyone making false police reports, officers added, could also be charged.