The New Haven Police Department is investigating after an anonymous Instagram account posted four ominous photos of clowns with threatening captions targeted at New Haven Public Schools students on Saturday.
NHPD and NHPS officials became aware of the threatening posts early Monday morning. As of now, there is no evidence of credible danger to students, but the posts are being taken seriously as a case of harassment, said NHPD media liaison David Hartman.
The account targeted schools including Career Regional High School, Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School and New Haven Academy, and also listed James Hillhouse Regional High School, Eli Whitney Technical High School and The Sound School in its posts.
“Then hillhouse, cross, Eli Whitney, co-op, sound… u really think its fake, wait and see,” one caption reads.
In response, district officials have contacted Instagram to remove the account and are monitoring social media more carefully, district superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said. He added that the district invested in more cameras, locked doors and increased security four years ago after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
“We, as a district, are monitoring this situation closely to ensure our schools’ safety and sense of safety,” Harries said.
Although police do not consider the threats to be credible, the perpetrator could be charged with a felony if the posts become more explicit, Hartman said.
On Tuesday, a student was caught playing with a clown mask outside of a middle school. School officials then confiscated the object and contacted the student’s parents, Harries said.
Harries added that clown-related pranks have occurred around the country, but this case does not appear to be related. None of those previous incidents have led to violence to his knowledge, he said.
But the owners of the account likely got their idea by reading about those incidents, Hartman said. The city will not close its schools because of the prank.
“These are press driven; there is no question about that,” Hartman said. “We are not going to shut schools down for this stuff.”
The district left a recorded message about the incident on parents’ phones Monday night. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, NHPS sent students home with a letter that informed parents that the district was working with NHPD to investigate the authenticity of the clown posts. The letter also noted that clown-themed posing has been a rising trend across the country. Although there is no indication that the posts pose a real threat, the district will be taking precautions to ensure student and teacher safety, the letter added.
“Until additional information is available, New Haven Public Schools Director of Security Thaddeus Reddish asks that principals and building leaders prohibit clown costumes and any symbols of terror during this Halloween season,” the letter said.
The district also requested that parents steer their children away from choosing clown costumes this Halloween.
Yury Maciel-Andrews, the mother of a third grader and eighth grader at East Rock Community Magnet school, said that the first thing her eldest child asked when she arrived home was whether she had heard about the clowns. One of his peers had shown him the Instagram video at school, she said.
“The students think of it as funny,” Maciel-Andrews said. “The kids are taking it as a joke, even if it’s scary.”
Maciel-Andrews said she was concerned about the posts because some schools in the district have upcoming Halloween parades, and she hoped that no parent would make the mistake of dressing their child as a clown.
But Maciel-Andrews was reassured by the district’s rapid and serious response to the incident, noting that she received both the district’s voicemail and the letter her children brought home today.
“It’s disturbing, it’s concerning, in terms of whoever is using this strategy to intimidate people, but I’m not thinking of it as more than that,” she said.