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Reports of Creepy clowns mimic national concerns.

Byline: Chelsea Gorrow The Register-Guard

Coulrophobic.

That's the word for those who suffer from a fear of clowns.

But clowns can be bright, cheerful and funny; friendly, silly and colorfully dressed.

Unfortunately, those are not the kinds of clowns reportedly popping up around the Eugene- Springfield area lately, or across the country.

The clowns spotted recently look less interested in making balloon animals or juggling and more interested in instilling fear, according to the few local reports from citizens to police and on social media.

"Creepy clowns" have been spotted in at least 10 states and do not seem geared toward frightening coulrophobics, but toward frightening everyone - with scary masks and odd behavior.

At 10:30 p.m. Sunday night, a citizen called Springfield police about a person dressed as a clown hanging out at the Springfield bus station on A Street. The "clown" was not acting suspiciously, the caller said, but because of recent rumors on social media about clowns, as well as her belief that clowns could pose a unique threat to children, the caller asked the dispatcher to take a report, according to the Springfield police dispatch log.

The information was documented, dispatch records show.

Social media users also have claimed creepy clowns have been spotted on Coburg Road near McKenzie View Drive, and in the town of Coburg.

Eugene police announced Tuesday they have not received any reports of clown sightings in the city, but wanted to remind members of the public to be aware of their surroundings, stay safe and call 911 if they feel threatened.

Also on Tuesday, the Lebanon Police Department issued a regional public safety announcement, noting it is not illegal to dress like a clown, but if you are chased by a person in a clown costume, it still could be construed as a crime and would be "investigated as such."

News reports of creepy clowns began appearing over the summer after children in South Carolina told adults that a group of scary clowns had been trying to lure them into the woods. Adults in the area then began to report seeing clowns under streetlights and waving at passing cars near the road at night.

Since then, reports of creepy clowns have been filed across the nation.

But the perception of a "creepy clown epidemic" might be larger than the actual sightings - instilling fear in another way, through anxiety.

According to Kelly McIver, the University of Oregon police spokesman, a student was on the phone with his mother, who lives out of state, while walking on campus near the Erb Memorial Union on Monday afternoon, when he told his mother he saw two people dressed as creepy clowns handing out fliers from a booth.

The mother told her son to stay away from them because of recent news reports on the "scary clown epidemic," then hung up the phone and called University of Oregon police.

"We looked into it," McIver said, "and it was a legitimate tabling activity at the EMU, to promote a haunted house later this month."

Shortly after the mother's phone call to police, McIver said, the department's new police chief, Matt Carmichael, and a few officers stopped and chatted with the clowns. McIver said the police department would be sending out a message on social media Tuesday, asking students to report "criminal or physically threatening behavior to police right away, regardless of what the person or people look like."

He said they also will be reminding people that wearing a mask or dressing in a costume, even to look scary, is not illegal and not something that police should be "enforcing."

"It's actions, not appearances," McIver said.

A featured article on CNN's website Monday discussed the origin of "creepy clowns," tracing it back to serial killer John Wayne Gacy in the 1970s, who dressed up as "Pogo the clown" at children's birthday parties and regularly painted portraits of clowns. Gacy killed at least 33 young men and boys, burying most of them in the crawl space of his suburban Chicago home, according to the CNN article.

Follow Chelsea on Twitter @chelseagorrow. Email chelsea.gorrow@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Crime
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 5, 2016
Words:689
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