This may be your worst nightmare: Reports are emerging from multiple states of alarming interactions with people in clown clothing.
First, residents of Greenville, S.C., reported last month that suspicious clowns were attempting to lure children into the woods. The property manager of the Fleetwood Manor apartment, where many of the sightings happened, sent a letter to residents warning that "at no time should a child be alone at night, or walking in the roads or wooded areas at night," according to local television station WHNS.
Up to this point, law enforcement officials have not uncovered any evidence — "not even a prankster in a clown suit" — as The Associated Press reported.
Since the report in Greenville, sightings of sinister "clowns" have emerged around the country. As the AP reported, "people in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina and now, Pennsylvania have reported scary or suspicious encounters with people dressed like clowns." Last night, Kentucky joined the growing list.
Here are a few examples:
Alabama: At least nine people "identifying themselves as clowns" have been arrested and charged in Alabama in just over a week, according to AL.com:
"Seven, including two adults and five juveniles, face felony charges of making a terrorist threat. One juvenile faces a child in need of supervision charge. And the other, also a juvenile, faces a misdemeanor harassing communications charge from an incident in Rainbow City."
Pennsylvania: State police have received reports of clown sightings in multiple counties, as PennLive.com reported earlier this week.
The AP reports one such incident near Pottsville, which Pottsville Police Chief Richard Wojciechowsky characterized as a prank: " 'Two knuckleheads with clown-like clothes on' hopped out of a pickup truck and yelled at a group of young children and teenagers."
Police are also investigating an incident in Ebensburg, where a woman reported a clown peeping in through her window.
PennLive.com reports that police also believe some other social media reports of suspicious clowns are actually false.
Kentucky: On Friday, police arrested a man "dressed as a clown lurking in a wooded area" in the small town of Middlesboro, as the BBC reported. Jonathan Martin, 20, "was charged with wearing a mask in a public place and disorderly conduct," after police found him "crouching among trees by an apartment complex."
The recent rash of clown-related reports has prompted the nearby Barbourville Police Department to advise people against dressing like a clown: "Dressing as a clown and driving, walking or standing in public can create a dangerous situation for you and others," it said in a Facebook post. "Please refrain from this unnecessary activity."
North Carolina: Earlier this month, Greensboro police responded to a complaint about a clown emerging from the woods, just days after the South Carolina incidents. The person was "wearing a scary clown mask, red curly wig, yellow dotted shirt, blue clown pants and clown shoes" and a bystander wielding a machete chased the individual back into the woods, police said in a statement. They added that they searched but were not able to find the clown.
Police in Greensboro also advised people against copying the strange behavior "given the heightened tensions about these entertainers." They acknowledge that it is "lawful to dress as a clown."
It's not clear why these reports are suddenly emerging. Police have said that they believe some are hoaxes. "Some speculators have put forth that the clowns may be a viral campaign — possibly for '31,' a new horror movie directed by Rob Zombie featuring homicidal carnival workers," as The Washington Post reported.
A scary clown spotted loitering in Green Bay in August, holding four black balloons, turned out to be "a marketing ploy for a short horror film," as the AP reported.
Meanwhile, working clowns are frustrated about the upsetting encounters.
David McCullough, who performs in Texas as Kornpop the Klown, told The Washington Post that he has "worked very hard all my life to be a person that kids and their parents respect and can look up to."
Tricia Manuel, who runs a clown training camp in Minnesota, told The Associated Press that her business is hurting now. "When people report these things it should be 'someone dressed like a clown,' because a real clown would never dress or do anything to scare anyone," she said. "In South Carolina, two of the clowns were afraid to go out and perform."