In what could have been scenes from horror-fiction author Stephen King’s novel “It,” towns in the south of France have been gripped by a fear of evil, stalking clowns. The trend started in the north of France in early October, and has since spread throughout nearby areas.
Coulrophobia – the fear of clowns – caused quite a panic among residents in the Mediterranean port town of Agde; leading to the arrest of 14 teenagers on Saturday night. The teens, dressed as scary clowns, wielded pistols, knives, and baseball bats.
According to police sources who spoke with the Associated Foreign Press, the teens were arrested in the parking lot of a high school in the French town, even as authorities received more complaints of “armed clowns” in the region on Saturday and Sunday.
One source said that the “clowns” have been “mostly spotted outside schools, but also on public roads, in bushes, in a square. Their targets are often young children or teenagers, but also adults.”
For instance, in the city of Montpellier, police arrested a man in a clown costume for beating up a pedestrian with an iron bar. Meanwhile, in the northern French town of Bethune, a 19-year-old was slapped with a six-month suspended jail term on Monday for threatening passers-by while disguised as a clown.
Motorists in different towns have also complained about being threatened by “scary clowns.”
Experts studying the situation have suggested that these “clown attacks” may be rooted in a challenge posed via social network sites; or perhaps in a video (which now has 31 million views) uploaded to YouTube showing an evil clown playing pranks on people; or maybe even in “Twisty, the killer clown,” a character in the popular TV series American Horror Story.
The evil clown sightings and reports have caused panic to spread through the French towns, and have fueled rumours that the “clown menace” is out of control. This has caused some citizens to take matters into their own hands.
On Wednesday, in the eastern French town of Mulhouse, officials arrested and subsequently released five teenagers who armed themselves with various objects – such as a truncheon, baseball bats, and teargas – with the aim of exacting vigilante-style justice on the pranksters.
Police have warned the public, however, not to be alarmed by such rumours and exaggerations.
“Since mid-October, a rumour inspired by videos published on the Internet, is worrying the population about the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France,” the national police said in a statement this week.
“Despite numerous reports made to police, there have been only a few sightings of people dressed as clowns having fun scaring passers-by. Symptomatic of the impact of the Internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order,” it added.