HAMPTON, Va. - What some may see as “clowning around”, police say is no joke.
Both the Hampton Police Department (HPD) and Newport News Police Department (NNPD) tightened security at specific schools on Friday, because of threats on social media.
Police say all the threats came from accounts of people posing as clowns.
“We are seeing some where they are talking about luring children into the woods,” said Cpl. Ashley Jenrette, with HPD.
Clown accounts uncovered by News 3 show posts between two clowns, Smickey the Clown and Esco the Clown, telling followers they are going to football games to “make friends” to pass out balloons and candy.
However, other posts on Esco’s instagram show more alarming images. One video depicts a clown covering a girl’s mouth, as she screams.
“Hampton has not had any clown sightings,” said Jenrette, “but we are taking it seriously.”
Of Hampton Public Schools, Andrews Pre-K-8, Phenix Pre-K-8 and all four public high schools were affected. In Newport News, Crittenden Middle School, Dozier Middle School, Passage Middle School and Woodside High School received threats, according to officials.
Parents of students at the affected schools received warning letters Friday morning about the threats.
The letter to Hampton high school parents reads:
This is to inform you of a rumor of a threat posted on social media that does not specifically target our high schools. However, please know that the Hampton Police Department and Hampton City Schools are aware of the posting.
We have confidence in the police department addressing this matter. Please know that we have taken measures to ensure the continued safety of our students and staff. While law enforcement has not determined that this is a credible threat, in addition to other measures, you will see an increased presence of law enforcement at our buildings.
As always, thank you for your continued support as we work together to keep our schools safe.
Police say they don’t think the threats are credible, but decided to step up security just in case.
“We have a lot of students in the city of Hampton. A lot of parents are very concerned, and we wanted to ease some of those concerns,” said Jenrette.
Hampton police tell News 3 if you are 16 years or older, wearing a mask in public is actually a class-6 felony, and can get you up to 5 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.
Newport News Schools also sent a message out to parents of several schools -- Crittenden Middle School, Dozier Middle, Passage Middle School, and Woodside High School.
“As many of you have shared with NNPS, there are social media posts threatening several schools in Newport News and in other local cities.
The police department is actively investigating the social media accounts. Out of an abundance of caution, NNPS is taking additional steps today to ensure the safety of our students. The police department is also increasing its presence in and around our schools.
We take these threats seriously; and thank our families for helping us keep our schools safe and secure. Please continue to report suspicious activities.
The safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance and we will remain vigilant in this regard.”
Newport News Schools say they are also aware of the threats and the schools have also increased police patrols around the schools as a precaution.
Smicky recently posted that he “might get arrested”, and his last post said “bye friends.”
We reached out to Smickey, Esco and other local clowns on social media, but our request for an interview was not returned.