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Oct 4, 2016 5:45 PM

UNH Police: Clown sighting was likely a prank

DURHAM — Clown sightings at college campuses are on the rise, and the University of New Hampshire was the most recent target in the Granite State.

However, the UNH Police Department said the sighting appears to be a prank, and they are now asking students and community members to be responsible if they choose to dress up like a clown.

"I think it’s someone playing a prank or a joke, but you have to be prepared in case it isn’t," said Stephen Pfaff, a freshman at UNH who was out late Monday night into Tuesday morning after hearing reports of a clown on campus.

UNH Police Chief Paul Dean confirmed a residence director at the Williamson Hall dormitory reported a person dressed as a clown outside the building with a megaphone, yelling at students.

He said when officers responded, they were unable to locate any clowns, and the campus was not placed on lock down or any other kind of alert.

"There’s no indication that the person had a weapon at all," Dean said over the phone on Tuesday afternoon. "There was no lock down, as some are indicating. I think people may be confusing us with what took place at Merrimack."

Monday night, a report on Twitter said there was a person dressed in a clown inside a dorm building at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass. and was armed with a rifle. The school was placed on lock down, but the report turned out to be a hoax.

READ: Police issue shelter-in-place order for possibly armed clown on Merrimack College campus

Chief Dean said there was no threat to the UNH community, and at most, the person's actions could be interpreted as disorderly conduct. Otherwise, no other illegal activity took place.

"It’s not against the law to dress up as a clown and walk around, as uncomfortable as it may be to some, disturbing, it certainly is not illegal," he said.

Students were fascinated by the clown, and Pfaff said he was one of as many as 2,000 students who were out late searching for clowns.

"We all went out looking for clowns last night and I was out until like 2 a.m.," he said. "There were packs of people. You'd run into groups of kids all night long.

Pfaff said he isn't afraid of the people who are dressing up and feels perfectly safe, though the news was a bit odd.

"It’s still a situation where you don’t want to assume the worst but you have to be prepared," he added, praising campus police for their diligence throughout the night.

The sighting has interesting timing, as Halloween is just around the corner. However, police say there is no plan to ban clown costumes from campus and ask anyone who chooses to dress like a clown, to do so responsibly.

Anything beyond dressing up and walking around could be construed as criminal activity. Chief Dean also said reporting sightings on social media is not the best way to communicate, for risk of false reporting online also being interpreted as a crime.

"I don’t think people are being malicious when they’re giving information," Dean said. "I think people genuinely try and pass information along [online] but I do think that people need to contact the police directly."

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