EFFINGHAM, Ill. — Amanda Smith and her family have been sleeping in their living room this week because of the fear that she says began last Sunday evening.
"My daughter and a friend were sitting on the porch when they saw a man dressed up in a clown costume," Smith told the Effingham, Illinois Daily News. "They said he was shining a flashlight on them. They were scared to death."
Over the past several weeks, clowns acting suspiciously have have been spotted across the country. A recent Rolling Stone article said sightings of "creepy clowns" have been reported in several states, including Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Police in Effingham said Friday that nobody wearing a clown costume had been arrested in the city. But officials were quick to add that doesn't mean arrests won't be made.
Calling it a "nationwide fad," Effingham police say in the release that dressing up as a clown and "committing any act with the intent to cause any person or persons undue alarm" is a criminal offense.
Smith said the clown re-appeared Thursday afternoon after her family went out to eat, apparently using a nearby vacant home as a base. She added that the clown, who she believes is male, is frightening her family.
"This just scares the (expletive) out of me," she said.
Effingham police officers searched the outside of the home in the 1000 block of Virginia Avenue in northeast Effingham after the alleged Thursday afternoon sighting, but left without making any arrests.
Effingham Det. Scott Volpi said there's nothing illegal about dressing up as a clown. But he acknowledged that there is a level of fear in the area that might want to make somebody think twice about doing so.
"A lot of parents are just scaring themselves silly," Volpi said. "People are on edge about clowns. All that kids are talking about are clowns."
Volpi acknowledged that it might not be a good time to dress as a clown, even in jest.
"Somewhere, somebody dressed as a clown is going to get beaten or worse," he said.
Grimes writes for the Effingham, Illinois Daily News.