America has a scary clown problem.

Last month, the Two-Way reported on a spate of creepy-clown sightings across America. It seemed to begin in Greenville, S.C., where there were reports that "suspicious clowns were attempting to lure children into the woods."

That was followed by sightings in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, with arrests made in Alabama and Kentucky. Many sightings were hard to verify, leaving people wondering: Jokes? Hoaxes? Figment of our collective imaginations? Cyclical clown uprising?

The reports were unsettling even for those who don't suffer coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns. And in the weeks since, the clown situation — there's no way around it — has gotten worse.

It's also gotten more complicated. There are now, as far as the Two-Way can tell, three distinct categories of clown quandaries. First, the original nightmare:

1. People actually dressed as clowns and acting creepy

There are multiple allegations of individuals in clown masks or makeup behaving alarmingly.

In some cases, the clown has not been found, and it's difficult to verify the sighting: A San Francisco Bay Area mother told police that a man in a clown suit attempted to snatch her 1-year-old child out of her arms at a bus stop in broad daylight. She says she kicked him away.

In Abilene, Texas, a man told police that two clowns held him at gunpoint after he took his dog outside to do its business around 4:30 a.m. A local TV station writes that, according to the police report, the man had a "hair-raising stare-down" with the clowns — one of whom was armed with an "AR-type rifle." The tense situation was resolved when the victim "retreated into his residence to get a bigger dog," and the clowns drove away.

But in other cases, suspects have been identified and arrested by police.

In Baytown, Texas, teens were arrested and charged with dressing as clowns and chasing people with sticks. A man reportedly running around in a clown mask in Sheboygan, Wis., was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

Police arrested a man in Altamont, Ill., after he allegedly used a chain saw to cut brush ... while wearing a clown mask, alarming nearby pedestrians.

In Arkansas, police say they arrested a man who was dressed as a clown and "terrorizing people with a horn" in Bentonville. They also arrested two accomplices and say the three men "did not intend harm."

Not even Canada is safe from the grinning menace: A 24-year-old man in Nova Scotia was arrested after witnesses said he was wearing a clown mask and grabbed at a boy's clothing.

At least some of the "clowns" appeared to focus on schools: In southern Oregon, after a clown holding a sign that said "We Are Here" was photographed outside local schools, police arrested a 21-year-old man. In Louisiana, two high school students were arrested after donning clown masks and riding around a school.

Which brings us to the second category of clown trouble:

2. Empty clown-related threats against schools

High schools. Middle schools. Even elementary schools.

Across the country, dozens of schools have had to cope with threats posted on social media accounts promising violence — with pictures of terrifying clowns attached.

In some jurisdictions, the threats are being investigated. In others, a child or teenager has been arrested and charged with posting the noncredible threat.

Such arrests were reported across the country: Washington County and Prince George's County in Maryland, Fontana and Fresno in California, Methuen and Rehoboth in Massachusetts, and Toms River, N.J.

Pasco County, Fla. Washington state. Austin and Houston and Rockwall, Texas. Smyrna, Del. Canton, Ill. Ansonia, Conn. Hammond, Ind. Philadelphia. Possibly a school district near you — this list is by no means complete.

Several police spokesmen describe these as copycat incidents, with students inspired by hearing of other clown-related threats.

We realize we risk contributing to that trend with this post, so let's emphasize: Each of the examples above involved someone being arrested for the threats, and in many cases, charged with felonies. Felonies are no joke, kids.

But it's crucial to note that, amid the panic, there's no actual clown involved. Which brings us to the third kind of clown chaos:

3. Unfounded hysteria

Creepy clowns are creepy. But the panic over creepy clowns can easily be greater than any actual threat from bemasked individuals.

In more than a dozen cases, reports of creepy clowns have led to arrests — not of scary entertainers, but of the people police say lied about their sightings.

Clownless clown panic can also happen without malice or intention. In Chicago, authorities say children — spooked by the general atmosphere of national clown anxiety — convinced themselves they saw clowns where, in fact, there were none.

And then there are the mobs of college students.

At Penn State on Monday night, hundreds of students took to the street ostensibly searching for a clown, according to the local Centre Daily and student paper Penn State Collegian.

There were, in fact, no verified reports of a sighting, police say — unless you count an image of a clown projected on a building. But that didn't stop students from running through the streets, apparently in search of vengeance, based on the expletives they hurled at the alleged "clown."

Here's a sample of the sentiment, which contains profanity and strong anti-clown passion:

A similar anti-clown mob materialized Monday in Connecticut, the AP reports:

"Carrying golf clubs, shovels and hockey sticks, several hundred University of Connecticut students gathered just before midnight in a cemetery, ready to do battle with menacing clowns they had heard might be lurking among the headstones."

Again, no clowns were found.

In conclusion, the Fresno police chief expressed some sentiments that — while referring to threats to shut down schools — might apply equally well to the whole spectrum of clown misbehavior, from masked menaces to pranksters to wild mobs:

"Quite frankly, we are fed up," police Chief Jerry Dyer said. "We want this to stop immediately."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

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