Collingswood Superintendent Scott Oswald urged parents to speak to their kids about stranger danger and promised increased police presence throughout the week. Multiple departments are investigating.
By Matt Skoufalos | October 4, 2016
The latest in a nationwide spate of clown-related threats and copycat hoaxes has apparently arrived in South Jersey.
On Monday, Collingswood Public Schools notified parents of an implied threat against the district via a Facebook post from a user with the screen name “Clownzilla Sliceyathroat.”
The post in question, now no longer available on social media, lists “[high]schools for the week,” numbered by day—Woodbury, West Deptford, Collingswood, Pennsauken, and Pennsauken Technical School, respectively—with the warning, “P.S. I am not alone.”
In a letter to families, Collingswood Superintendent Scott Oswald asked that parents “review the ‘stranger talk’ with your children, particularly those at the younger grade levels.”
Collingswood Police Chief Kevin Carey said Monday that the department would have “an increased presence” at schools in the district, but that police have uncovered no information to substantiate any specific threat.
“We will be patrolling the area diligently, and we will be investigating the area as well,” he said. “We don’t have any information that it’s credible at this time.”
October 5 is national Walk to School Day, and Carey said police had already planned to accompany children on their morning commutes to show support for pedestrian and bike safety in the neighborhoods.
The chief said the matter is under investigation by Collingswood detectives, who are backtracking information from the initial Facebook post that mentioned the district.
Carey didn’t have any particular information about the impetus or origins of the rash of clown sightings that have become a heavy topic of discussion across the country.
“This is a newer thing,” he said. “A lot of it seems to be trying to create anxiety.”
Woodbury Police Lieutenant Kelli Marro said the day had passed without incident, but that her department is taking the incident “as seriously as possible.
“We are aware of it, and we’re definitely continuing an investigation,” Marro said. “We’re hoping to find out and press charges accordingly.”
Although to her, the posting appeared to be “a scare tactic” meant to “instill fear in teachers and kids,” Marro said law enforcement still consider it potentially criminal behavior.
“This is not a joke,” she said. “We don’t think it’s funny. We will find out who it is.”
Like Carey, Marro too, was at a loss to account for the nature or frequency of the clown-related incidents.
NBC reported a pair of Washington Township teens was arrested Monday for making similar threats to their schools, and according to the New York Times, as many as a dozen people have been arrested for the same type of behavior nationwide.
But Washington Township Police Captain Dennis Sims said he didn’t believe the social media post circulated by the Collingswood school district was related to the incidents in his community.
“Other than being copycat-type activities, I don’t think there’s any connection,” Sims said. “It’s kids that age seeing things floating around on social media.”
Sims called the clown-related incidents “a strange phenomenon that took everyone quickly,” starting elsewhere in the country and eventually taking off locally. As such, he said there is little guidance police can offer specific to the threats.
“I’m not sure there’s really a playbook other than looking out for one another, and looking out for kids and any kind of strange behavior, and not being afraid to call the police,” Sims said. “We always stress that if something feels kind of unnerving, give us a call, and we’ll look into it.”
Creating a false public alarm is a third-degree crime in New Jersey, punishable by a $2,000 fine, or one equal to the cost of deploying emergency response to the scene of the alleged incident. Hoaxes involving the placement of fake bombs, or which cause injury or death, can be elevated to second- or even first-degree crimes.
Juveniles punished under the same statute (NJSA 2C:33-3) also face an additional six-month suspension of their driving privileges after they turn 17.
A press release from the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office Tuesday outlined myriad other charges that could be filed against persons creating panic.
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