HANFORD — Police arrested a juvenile Tuesday following a social media post that suggested “armed” clowns would visit three Hanford schools later this week.
The arrest comes amid nationwide reports of dangerous clowns and the growing popularity of creepy clown costumes for Halloween.
An Instagram user called “josheytheclown” posted the apparent threat Monday with an all-black screen and the following caption:
“We are going to go to 3 schools this Thursday, JFK, west, then east. We WILL be armed, so don’t attempt nothing. We are anonymous, you don’t know us. Since ppl be asking for balloons, we will be giving away balloons.”
The Hanford Police Department said police began receiving calls about the post around 8 p.m. Monday. Many of the calls were from people fearing for their own safety or for the safety of their children who attend John F. Kennedy Junior High School, Hanford West High School or Hanford High School.
Police notified the school districts and sent extra officers to the affected school sites to patrol in and around the facilities.
By Tuesday afternoon, officers arrested a juvenile believed to be responsible for the threat. Police said the juvenile admitted to creating the “josheytheclown” account and posting the threat on Instagram. The suspect was booked into the Kings County Juvenile Center on suspicion of making criminal threats.
Capt. Karl Anderson attributed the fast resolution to citizens who reported the threat promptly.
“I am proud of the sense of ownership our citizens have in our community and their willingness to come forward and work with law enforcement to keep our community safe,” Anderson said in a statement.
Police withheld the suspect's name and age. The “josheytheclown” Instagram account was disabled to prevent further posts.
William Fishbough, superintendent of the Hanford Joint Union High School District, issued a statement earlier in the day Tuesday to inform parents and students about the post. Fishbough said the district did not believe the post was a “credible threat,” but was taking precautionary measures.
“While we are hopeful that these local ‘creepy clown’ posts were not created by HJUHSD students,” Fishbough said in a statement, “we also want to remind students and families that making social media posts that threaten any school or student is considered a terrorist threat, which is punishable by law and could result in expulsion.”
Clown sightings have popped up all over the country during the past month, including a few in Hanford.
Other posts on Instagram over the past few weeks have reported clown sightings around the city. A user called “hanford_clowns_” shows a photo of a clown at Freedom Park standing behind a tree holding what appears to be a knife. Another user called “hanford_killer_clown” posted a photo of a scary clown sitting on a swing with the caption “Clown spotted at hidden valley park.”
Lt. George Hernandez said police received a report of a clown at a Sierra Pacific High School sporting event earlier this month. A school resource officer investigated and ultimately let the clown stay at the game.
“The guy wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Hernandez said.
Police have also received reported clown sightings on 12th Avenue. The Spooky Halloween Super Store has a costumed employee who stands at 12th Avenue and Lacey Boulevard to advertise the business. Those costumes have included a clown, a chimpanzee and Michael Myers from the “Halloween” slasher movies.
Halloween City is also using a scary clown to drum up business for its store at 11th Avenue and Fifth Street. Store manager Jessica Algara said the recent clown scares around the country haven’t hurt sales of creepy clown masks, costumes and decorations.
“That’s actually what people are coming to get the most,” Algara said.
Algara said the growing interest might be tied to the widespread social media buzz about killer clowns. Some large retailers have responded to reports of clown-related threats by pulling creepy clown masks from shelves. Target announced this week that it had begun removing such items from its stores last week.
Algara said another popular costume choice this year is DC Comics villain Harley Quinn, who often appears as an accomplice to Batman’s evil clown nemesis, The Joker. Girls of all ages have been snatching up those costumes.
"Everyone wants to be Harley Quinn," Algara said.