For the past week or so, authorities in California's Central Valley have been fielding calls about clowns supposedly terrorizing locals. On Wednesday, a clown with orange hair was reportedly chasing people with a club, for example, but when sheriff's deputies responded, there was no evidence of a clown or of any victims. Now the Kern County Sheriff's Office says it thinks the calls are Halloween pranks—inspired by the "Wasco Clown," a person dressed as a clown, holding balloons, and standing in various locations throughout the San Joaquin Valley town of Wasco in pictures posted on a creepy Instagram account. The "Wasco Clown" soared to prominence after being written about on LA blogs, in newspapers, on Slate, and even on the Daily Mail, the Bakersfield Californian reports.
Wasco locals reported seeing the clown around town beginning Oct. 1, and, as LAist notes, an urban legend was quickly born, with similar clowns popping up in nearby cities—reportedly often with weapons (ax, machete, bat, etc.) in hand. But the sheriff's office says none of the calls about armed clowns has actually been substantiated. At the nearby Bakersfield police department, which as of last week had received 16 reported sightings of its own, a sergeant theorized, "We may have people dressing up as clowns, and we get there and they're not there." One teen, who says he was inspired by the Wasco Clown, has been arrested for dressing up as an unarmed clown and scaring schoolkids, Bakersfield Now reports. As for the original Wasco Clown himself, he spoke anonymously to KGET and said the pictures are part of a photography project his wife is doing. (Last year, Britain saw a similar phenomenon.)