Creepy clowns continue to stalk Inland Empire

Creepy clowns have made their way across the country and now several sightings in Temecula, Murrieta, Hemet, San Jacinto and even Lake Elsinore, have officials speaking out against the movement designed to strike terror in the hearts of many.

MVUSD was the first to address the issue with a press release sent out to parents last week after a clown appeared at Murrieta Mesa High School.

“We know students & parents are talking about these clown rumors which may cause some concern and anxiety,” the release read. “Please be assured that there have been no verified threats to any schools in MVUSD.  In the event of a real emergency, parents would be notified immediately.”

Temecula Unified School District quickly followed suit after sightings at Rancho Vista High School, Vail Ranch Middle School and Temecula Promenade were reported.

“An individual dressed in a clown outfit holding a fake knife was videotaped in front of Vail Ranch Middle School last evening and shared through social media,” TVUSD wrote in a social media post Wednesday, Oct. 5. “As of this afternoon, Temecula PD has confirmed this was indeed a prank. Suspects have been identified and PD is currently pursuing an investigation. Again, there are NO credible threats against any TVUSD school sites. As with any investigation, no information is available regarding the identity of the individuals involved. This is now a police matter and will be handled accordingly.”

But a threat made against Chaparral High School in the evening hours Thursday, Oct. 7, involving a clown mask and C-4 led to mayhem for students there the following day. School officials began releasing students in the early morning hours following a series of tweets made by someone only identified as Lance EXE.

“Good luck surviving the new Columbine,” the last tweet, surrounded by bomb emojis, posted shortly after 8 a.m. reads.

Parents rushed to the school to take their students home, eventually forcing the school to end classes for the day.

“Due to the disruption of this morning’s social media threat continuing with an instructional day is not an option,” a press release issued by TVUSD read.

Lake Elsinore Unified School District also addressed the ongoing sightings of the creepy clowns.

“The district wants to reassure you that at this time, no credible threats to LEUSD schools have been found in connection with these recent social media posts,” LEUSD wrote in a press release, also shared on social media.

“Some highly visible posts, which have also appeared in many states across the U.S., are meant to frighten viewers by including veiled threats of mayhem, sometimes embellished with photos of costumed or masked individuals in identifiable community and school locations,” the release continued. “The matter has been treated seriously by all law enforcement and school officials, and in some cases, arrests have been made (none within LEUSD’s jurisdiction, however).”

Temecula Chief of Police Jeff Kubel also took to social media weighing in on the issue.

“There have been several people who have expressed concern about the person(s) spotted at different locations in the city dressed as creepy clowns,” Kubel wrote on the department’s Facebook page. “While it is not illegal to wear a clown mask, illegally carrying weapons or making criminal threats to harm others will be thoroughly investigated and those responsible will face criminal charges. The Temecula Police Department takes a zero-tolerance stance against those who would seek to spread fear by making threats to harm others.”

Kubel said the department is asking the public to report suspicious activity at (800) 950-2444 or 696-HELP so that it can be thoroughly investigated.

“Even though there are no known credible threats associated with the creepy clowns, our officers are on the lookout for those engaged in any illegal activity associated with the creepy clown phenomena,” Kubel wrote. “Also, our school resource officers are working closely with our schools to ensure a quick response when/if there are concerns related to the creepy clown phenomena on a particular campus. While we don’t believe the creepy clown phenomena is anything but an internet hoax, we are determined to remain alert/aware so we can closely monitor the issue and keep the community safe.”

According to riverside County Sheriff Deputy Mike Vasquez, the Sheriff’s Department and all of the contract cities are aware of the strange phenomena and the use of clowns and social media to instill fear into the public.

“We want to remind the public, it’s not a crime to dress up in a clown outfit,” he said. “We understand there are fears associated with that but we want to remind the public that if they do see something suspicious like someone carrying and unsheathed knife or something that can be used as a weapon, we encourage them to contact their local police department and dial 9-1-1. We ask you to partner with us and call 9-1-1 so that we can take care of the problem.”

Vasquez said that officers prefer that citizens do not approach people wearing the clown costumes.

“We know that it instills fear, but we want the public to partner with us and report these sightings so we can address the issue,” he said.

Social media users need to be sensitive to others and understand that ultimately the poster is responsible for the post, said Vasquez.

“Although we are entitled to the freedom of speech and social media is still prevalent and we as a society use it to communicate amongst ourselves, people have to understand when using social media, they need to consider the responsibility of their posts.”

Vasquez said it’s important to remember that posts to social media can be interpreted a certain way and the poster sought out by law enforcement then held accountable for the post.

“Especially with what happened at Chaparral High School, these posts can be looked at in a negative light and considered threats,” he explained. “Our laws allow us to take someone in custody and prosecute them for those threats that are made.”

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