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Clown hysteria breaks out in Tampa Bay: Pasco County, Largo investigate reports of creepy clowns

Pasco County officials placed all public schools on "Alert Campus" status Friday after a threat about high schools was posted on the "Aint Clownin Around" Twitter site. [Photo from Twitter]
Published Sep. 30, 2016

The clown hysteria that has swept the nation has reached the Tampa Bay area, and local law enforcement officials are not laughing.

The latest reports are coming out of Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Pasco County officials on Friday placed all public schools on "Alert Campus" Friday after a threat about high schools was posted on the "Aint Clownin Around" Twitter site.

In a Facebook message and in a robocall to parents, the Pasco school system notified parents and guardians and said the action was taken out of an abundance of caution. The district described the status as an alert asking everyone to report anything suspicious. Classes and other activities were continuing as scheduled, the district said.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is investigating.

RELATED: Attention creepy clowns — Scaring people in a mask is illegal in Florida (and real clowns are sick of you)

In a related development Friday, the Sheriff's Office said it was investigating several "clown sightings" in recent days in Hudson, Port Richey and Holiday.

"These subjects dressed as clowns are creating profiles on Facebook and requesting juveniles as friends," the sheriff's statement said. "In one post, a clown requested that a juvenile meet them at a park at night. We want to caution everyone that these types of acts are not being taken as a joke and are being investigated as threats."

The office is asking the public to report any suspicious clown activity by calling its tipline at 1-800-706-2488.

Pasco school officials said they had no reason to believe the clown threat on Twitter is credible or that any school is in danger, "however, we are not summarily dismissing it."

Such incidents have also been reported in Largo.

Largo police said there was a report of a clown standing in the woods behind Largo Middle School at 155 Eighth Ave. SE. Officers searched the area, the agency said, and not only didn't find anyone but also did not find any evidence that anyone had been back in those woods recently.

This comes on the heels of an incident reported to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday morning, that a Largo High School student was chased by a man dressed as a clown. The incident was reported at her school bus stop near the high school at 410 Missouri Ave. N. The teenager escaped unharmed, deputies said, and the investigation is continuing.

However, Largo police said social media reports of a clown spotted near Largo High were false.

"Obviously, there has been national attention on Clown Hoax's at schools and the police department will continue to monitor the situation and be vigilant," read a statement from the Largo Police Department.

Officers have warned local schools, public works employees and CSX, which has railroad tracks nearby, to be on the lookout.

These reports are believed to be part of the so-called "creepy clown" phenomenon sweeping the country. Reports of menacing clowns scaring people have gone viral this summer, fueled by social media and copycats. Some incidents have been deemed hoaxes and some have resulted in arrests while others remain a mystery.

Neither the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office nor the Tampa Police Department have received reports of such clown sightings, but warned residents to be vigilant as Halloween approaches.

"We know it's out there, so people should be on heightened alert for anything suspicious," said Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon. "If you see something, say something."

This year Halloween falls on a Monday, which means kids could be trick-or-treating throughout the weekend leading up to Oct. 31, said Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty. Parents should always keep their trick-or-treaters in sight, and stay in areas with sidewalks so their children aren't tempted to run across the streets.

"We're more concerned about kids darting across the street in dark costumes," Hegarty said. "And every year, whether its clowns or demons, people think shocking or scaring someone is fun on Halloween, so we expect to be busy with calls."

Tampa police will continue communicating with other local agencies and the Hillsborough County School District about any possible "creepy clowns," Hegarty said. As the phenomenon picks up steam on social media the potential for copy cats is growing, he said.

"Don't dismiss it," Hegarty said.

Those who believe scaring people with a clown mask should be warned: In Florida, it's illegal to wear a mask with the intent to harass someone.

Times staff writer Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report.

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