ROANOKE (WSLS 10)-- What started as a few bizarre headlines about clowns back in August has ballooned into an issue across the country. There have been hundreds of "creepy clown sightings" nationwide, including several threats here in the Commonwealth.
Now that stores are beginning to sell Halloween costumes, it's easy for the would-be pranksters to scare people-- but police are warning that it's not a joke. Officers say there are certain exceptions when it is okay for people to wear a mask that covers their face-- like if they need the protection for work, if it's cold outside or for kids Trick-or-Treating on Halloween. But dressing up as a clown to scare people could lead to serious consequences, including felony charges.
"If you dress up in a clown mask and attempt to scare someone, intimidate someone or harass someone and you attempt to conceal your identity so they don't know who you are," says Roanoke City's Sgt. David Morris. "That's a legitimate charge that the police can bring against you if they can identify you."
Police in the Star City say they're being vigilant and are prepared to respond to any clown sightings-- but for the most part the sightings seem to be pranks that have been taken way too far. Clowns with the Kazim Shrine also don't seem to find the humor in the clown sightings.
The Kazim Shrine Clowns dress up to participate in parades and circuses-- raising money to help sick children nationwide.
"When I first saw that, I didn't think it was a big deal," says Winky the clown. "I didn't realize how big it has gotten. It's actually scary now. People are actually afraid."
These clowns say they love what they do-- dressing up and putting on a show to raise money for sick children at 22 hospitals, burn units and orthopedic centers nationwide. They raise $3 million a day to help those kids pay for treatment, transportation and other necessities for the families.
It takes Kazim Shrine Clowns hours to get ready. They meticulously put on their makeup and get their crazy hair in place-- all to make kids laugh at the hospital, parades and other local events.
"When we go to hospitals and you see a child that's been in the bed and had a really hard time and they smile and reach up to you, that's really important to us," says Loki the Clown. "All these people putting on masks and going around trying to scare people, that puts a bad light on all of us. When we're driving down the road-- you realize people are thinking, 'Is this a good clown or a bad clown?' You can look at us and see we're happy nice clowns. That's what we want to project."
About one in eight people are already afraid of clowns, and with all of the scary clown sightings, many worry this could make things worse. The Kazim Shriners say these clown sightings aren't going to stop them from working hard. They'll continue to dress up and make kids laugh-- so they can continue to raise money for the sick children that need the help.