Reports of a clown threatening to kidnap an El Portal student and an Instagram message that a clown was coming to “kill students at Escalon High School” had both campuses and police on high alert this week.
One arrest was made – a 16-year-old male student from Vista High School was booked into Juvenile Hall for making threats in a Thursday, Oct. 6 incident that saw police responding to the high school regarding the threat.
Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa said the incidents were frightening but there were no injuries and they were determined to be a hoax. (See related story.)
“We were dealing with that a good portion of the week,” Escalon Police Department Chief Mike Borges said of the clown threats. “The first incident on Oct. 4, we responded to El Portal because of supposedly killer clowns, three girls there joined some Instagram chat room, a male told them he was one of the clowns, said he was going to show up at school and kidnap one of the girls the next day.”
Borges said the conversation between the girls was overheard by a parent, who contacted police, and they provided extra patrol at El Portal that day and the next.
“We felt fairly confident nothing was going to happen,” Borges said, and nothing did, with officers on scene at the school.
Thursday, officers were also called to Escalon High School, with a student reporting she had received an Instagram message from “clownboy209” that he was coming to the high school campus to kill students.
Borges said other schools in the area have been impacted as well, and the department had extra officers on patrol in the area and on scene at the football game between Escalon and Hilmar on Friday night.
“Safety is always the number one priority,” said Escalon High School Principal Eric Simoni. “We got information that involved the endangerment of students, we contacted the police, Escalon Police Department was fantastic; they did their job to a superior level.”
The Instagram posting was determined to be a hoax and Chief Borges credited the work of Detective Anthony Hardgraves with leading to the suspect and an arrest. Officer Steven Quilici and Sgt. Gustavo Flores were also key to the investigation, Borges said.
“Detective Hardgraves, with a lot of good work, got a search warrant, traced it back and learned who the subject was that created the (Instagram) account, sent the message; he denied it, they were able to prove it,” Borges explained of the work that led to the arrest.
Reserve officers were called in to bolster the department personnel for Thursday, providing extra patrols at both El Portal and EHS. There was a report of a person in a clown mask sitting in a truck near the middle school on Thursday, but nothing came of that report either, said officials.
The main hoax at the high school, Borges said, did heighten the fear surrounding the ‘killer clowns.’
“That message caused such a concern and a panic in the community, you didn’t know if it was real or not,” Borges said. “But our officers did a great job.”