GREENVILLE, SC -- Ken Miller, the police chief of Greenville, was clear on Thursday: "The clowning around needs to stop."
Miller held a joint press conference with Greenville County Sheriff's Master Deputy Ryan Flood at the Law Enforcement Center on McGee Street to discuss increasing reports of clown sightings in the Upstate, WHNS reported.
Clown anxieties began on Aug. 24 when residents at Fleetwood Manor Apartments received a letter about multiple complaints regarding "a clown or a person dressed in clown clothing taking children or trying to lure children in the woods."
Witness reported seeing clowns near the complex, attempting to entice children with cash and green laser lights. One teen claimed a clown knocked on the door of his home after school.
While officials who investigated the claims said they have yet to find any substantial evidence indicating the presence of clowns, they have continued to receive tips about sightings across the county.
At the press conference Thursday, Miller said there have been four reported clown sightings within city limits. He said the agency isn't clear if the clowns are one or two people acting repeatedly, or random pranks by multiple individuals.
According to Miller, the clowns spotted in Greenville have not attempted to make contact with bystanders, but have simply "stood there to be seen."
He said, with other similar sightings across the country, police don't know if the occurrences could be viral marketing for Rob Zombie's upcoming film 31, which features carnival workers who are kidnapped on the night before Halloween.
"We do know it's striking fear among members of our public," the chief said.
Flood encouraged anyone who sees a clown to call 911 and, if they can safely, try to get a good description and a photo or video. He reminded the community to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings.
He said claims of clowns trying to lure children have not been substantiated with evidence, but the Sheriff's Office is taking reports seriously.
Those who have been dressing up as clowns could face charges, Miller said, because many of the costumes are against the law and city ordinance.
"We will charge you," he said. "We really don't want to, but we will."
Residents at Fleetwood Manor Apartments on Fleetwood Drive reportedly received letters on Wednesday, July 24, stating the property management has received complaints of a person dressed as a clown trying to "lure children into the woods," WHNS reported.
The letter, which appears to be printed on Fleetwood Manor Apartments letterhead, reminds the public children should never be alone or walking through the woods at night.
The property management in the letter indicates Greenville County law enforcement is conducting daily patrols of the property due to the reports. Below is the full text of the letter:
To The Residents of Fleetwood Manor
There has [sic] been several conversation [sic] and a lot of complaints to the office regarding a clown or a person dressed in clown clothing taking children or trying to lure children in the woods. First and foremost at Fleetwood Manor Apartments childrens [sic] safety is a top priority. At no time should a child be alone at night, or walking in the roads or wooded areas at night. Also if a person or persons are seen you are to immediately call the police. Greenville County Police Department is aware of the situation and have been riding [sic] the property daily. Remember there is a 10pm curfew for the property so to ensure your childrens [sic] safety please keep them in the house during night hours and make sure at ALL times children are supervised. Anymore information that becomes regarding this issue will be sent out to all residents.
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Donna Arnold, one of the people who lives at the complex and received the letter, said she called the Greenville County Sheriff's Office to come out to Fleetwood Manor after her son and others reported seeing clowns behind the basketball court.
"I thought my child was seeing things," Arnold said. "And then the next day I had about 30 kids come up to me and say, 'Did you see the clown in the woods?'"
Community activist Bruce Wilson said he is getting involved at the apartments to make sure children are safe, even if the sightings turn out to be harmless.
"We have about two to three hundred children out here," Wilson said. "I want to make sure that law enforcement is doing the right thing."