By definition, clowns are supposed to be silly.

But a trend of "creepy clown sightings" across the country has been no laughing matter.

  • Clown sightings reported this week in Largo, Palm Bay
  • We asked News 13 viewers for their thoughts
  • Police around country dealing with reported incidents

In Largo this week, authorities received a number of clown report sightings. Both the Largo Police Department and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office have responded but were unable to locate anyone.

"Obviously, there has been national attention on clown hoax's at schools, and the police department will continue to monitor the situation and be vigilant," said Largo police Lt. Paul Amodeo.

In Palm Bay, a resident said she saw someone dressed in a clown costume at a park and called police Tuesday.

Another woman who lives nearby, meanwhile, said she saw a clown stand in her backyard for half an hour Tuesday night.

"I don't do clowns, that's why I can't even go to Halloween Horror Nights," said the woman, who asked not to be identified.

She had just gotten home with her young daughter when her dog began barking and shaking in the backyard.  

"I saw this person standing on the other side of my old Mustang. He was dressed up in a clown costume, he had no hair, red shirt, couldn't really see his hands," she recalled.

By the time she called the cops, the clown ran through her yard and through a neighbor's yard before disappearing into nearby woods.

Police didn't find him.

Similar incidents have been reported in Marion County in Florida, along with the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and New Jersey.

Law enforcement officers are investigating dozens of the incidents, including the ones in Largo and Palm Bay, because of the fear of children being scared or harmed.

When we asked people to rate the creepiness of different occupations, the one that rose to the top of the creep list was — you guessed it — clowns."
— Psychologist and professor Frank T. McAndrew

Clowns and the psychology of fear

But for lots of adults, the thought of clowns — any form — is just as chilling. We asked News 13 viewers on Facebook if they're scared of clowns and got dozens of responses.

"I fear clowns just as much as I fear spiders," said Andrea Christgau. "I would run away screaming and end up in a corner crying and rocking back and forth."

"Clowns terrified me, especially the doll ones," said Stephen Fennell.

Frank T. McAndrew, a psychologist and professor at Knox College in Illinois, conducted his own study of creepiness that he wrote about for "The Conversation".

"When we asked people to rate the creepiness of different occupations, the one that rose to the top of the creep list was — you guessed it — clowns," McAndrew wrote. "The results were consistent with my theory that getting 'creeped out' is a response to the ambiguity of threat and that it is only when we are confronted with uncertainty about threat that we get the chills."

In the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, clown sightings were very popular. Many of the sightings were pretty much the same as those that have been reported in the past few months:

  • Person dressed as a clown
  • Clown tries to lure children, adults into van, woods or empty house
  • Sometimes the clown has a knife or gun
  • Clowns disappear (not in a supernatural way) or escape the police.

Those instances were, of course, before social media came along and caused some of the recent clown sightings — real or fake — to go viral.

"A lot of it is rumor and innuendo on social media," Muncie, Ind., police chief Steve Stewart told The Star Press. "What you worry about is what the clowns would do to someone if they tried to scare them or frighten them, and the flip side of that is what someone might do to the clowns.

"It's kind of silly, but the whole county is concerned about it," he told the newspaper.

Police said it's not against the law to dress as a clown, but committing a crime with a masked face can increase the level of charges.

If you see anything suspicious, call police right away.