CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — When Marble Falls High School theatre arts teacher Jon Clark heard about the so-called “creepy clown” scare gripping the world, he thought twice about the program’s circus-themed haunted house fundraiser.
The upcoming “Fright Night Theater: The Circus” will feature students dressed in scary costumes, including “creepy clowns” in the Salem’s Center on Oct. 26-29 and Oct. 31.
Students chose the theme after last year’s event and have worked about 1,000 hours to build the haunted house in the basement of the business strip center, 518 U.S. 281.
“We did have some concerns, obviously. We are a community event, and we want the community to feel comfortable with what we’re going with,” Clark said.
He added that, barring a serious incident, the program will go forward with the theme.
“All these people who are pulling pranks around the nation, we are not trying to cash in on that,” he said. “We are not a professional haunted house. (The haunted house) has been super successful to raise money in the past for the kids.”
As administrators continued support for the theme, a social media post on Oct. 6 involving a so-called “killer clown hit list” compounded concerns by Marble Falls Independent School District officials and local law enforcement, prompting an email alert to school staff.
“Marble Falls was mentioned with several other schools about a potential clown appearance,” MFISD spokesman Bruce Peckover said. “It was not seen as a credible threat.”
Other school districts named in the post were Johnson City and Blanco.
“We don’t anticipate any issues. We’ve communicated with the Marble Falls Police Department,” Peckover said. “We anticipate we’ll continue having classes as normal. Everything is just completely normal operations across the district.”
Marble Falls Police Capt. Glenn Hanson said he believes the social media hysteria over clowns might have originated from a string of pranks.
“It doesn’t take much to scare people. Because it’s gotten so much coverage in the media, it’s become a more frightening thing than just a creepy thing,” Hanson said. “In speaking with school leaders about the Instagram clown (list), we got the information. We are communicating with other agencies, especially in the cities where this Instagram post also named them to see if they have anything or see anything suspicious in the least bit.”
Despite reassurances, law enforcement in neighboring jurisdictions have taken other social media clown posts seriously enough to launch a string of arrests and charges against young people.
In October, police arrested several students in a string of separate incidents, including cases in Manor and Austin.
In late September, police arrested four Cedar Creek High School students in connection with threatening social media posts with a killer clown theme warning Bastrop, Cedar Creek, and Smithville of an “attack.”
The incidents come on the heels of several alleged creepy clown sightings and more arrests on misdemeanor terroristic threat charges in states across the country.
Some of the suspects called their actions “pranks” and “jokes.”
“To me, it reeks of a teenage prank. Some of them might say, ‘Maybe I’ll put out a creepy clown threat, and me and my buddies can get out of school,’” Hanson said. “I think it’s just somebody trying to prey upon the fears, especially about creepy clowns lately.”
Hanson added that authorities will be diligent about investigating or looking into concerns in the event a credible threat arises such as one reported by the Texas State University Police Department in San Marcos.
According to the report, on Oct. 3, witnesses described being assaulted by a person wearing a clown costume who fled the scene. Authorities have not identified a suspect but are continuing their investigation.
“As publicized as all of these have been, any reasonable person would know don’t do something like that because people will take it as a threat, and we will deal with it accordingly,” Hanson said. “Anytime you see something suspicious, report it.”
In the meantime, the theater arts haunted house organizers have set some additional ground rules for students dressed in scary costumes.
“We want the public to know that the students will be on the grounds when they are in makeup and will not leave the grounds (of the haunted house) until they have removed their costumes and makeup,” Clark said.
He added he hopes the community will support and participate in the good-natured event for a good cause to help pay for workshop and scholarship opportunities for the students.
“We want you to stay in town and support the local theater department. We see an increase in ticket sales because we get a lot better at scaring people,” he said. “We’re not watering this down. We’re going to come at you with everything we got.”