There have been reports of more clowns in more cities spotted lurking in the woods.
In the past month, police in the Carolinas have received multiple reports from people claiming clowns with white-painted faces were acting strangely in the area – at least once attempting to lure kids into the woods with money.
The reports have fueled speculation that the sightings could be a hoax, or possibly even morbid fans trying to promote the 2017 movie release of Stephen King’s It, about an evil clown known as Pennywise that terrorized a group of young boys.
One local TV station wondered if Rob Zombie’s upcoming film, about a group of kidnapped carnival workers, might be involved in guerrilla marketing – but the distributor said they were not.
“If this is a hoax or publicity stunt it is not funny,” Greensboro police spokeswoman Susan Danielsen tells PEOPLE. “It is alarming to the public and a drain on police resources. We just don’t know at this point, because we haven’t had the chance to interview any clowns.”
The latest sighting occurred on Tuesday, when a man brandishing a machete chased a clown into the woods near an apartment complex in Greensboro, North Carolina, police said.
The person, who was wearing a scary clown mask, red curly wig, yellow dotted shirt, blue clown pants and clown shoes, ran back into the woods and disappeared from view, according to police.
“We don’t know why he was there or what he was doing there,” Danielsen says. She says officers scoured the area, but couldn’t find anyone.
While it’s not illegal to dress as a clown in Greensboro, Danielsen says the city has an ordinance that prohibits people from wearing a mask within city limits.
The police department, she says, is also discouraging “copycat behavior.”
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In August, several residents at an apartment complex in Greenville, South Carolina, reported seeing clowns lurking in the nearby woods.
According to a Greenville County Sheriff’s Office incident report obtained by PEOPLE, a deputy spoke to a woman on Aug. 21 who claimed her son had seen clowns in the woods, whispering and making noises, and when she went over to check, she saw several clowns flashing green laser lights in the woods before they ran off.
Another resident told the deputy that she’d been walking home to her apartment hours before, at 2:30 a.m., and saw a “large-figured clown with a blinking nose, standing under a post light near the garbage dumpster area,” according to the incident report.
According to the report, several children also told the deputy that clowns had approached them behind one of the apartment buildings and tried to lure them into the woods “by displaying large amounts of money.”
“There has been a couple of people that have seen them,” Master Deputy Drew Pinciaro of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office told PEOPLE in an earlier interview. “Mainly it has been children who have reported they have seen these clowns in the woods. Every time we have gone out there we have not seen any clowns.”
The children said the clowns lived in a house near a pond at the end of a hiking trail, according to the report. The deputy found the house, but “there were no signs of suspicious activity or characters dressed in clown attire,” according to the report.
Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller said last week that “the clowning around needs to stop.”
“It’s illegal, it’s dangerous, it’s inappropriate, it’s creating community concern,” he said.
Miller said the reported clown sightings have included various descriptions, with differences in both race and costume, and that at that point police had found no evidence supporting the sightings.
Days later, on Sept. 4, residents in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, reportedly saw a clown attempting to entice kids into the woods with treats, the Associated Press reports.
Police said two children saw the clown, and an adult heard the clown, according to the news agency.
Police responded to the area but found no signs of the creepy character, who was seen wearing white overalls, white gloves, red shoes with red bushy hair, a white face and a red nose, according to the AP.