**This story has been updated to reflect changes made by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – On Saturday, the Tennessee Department of Safety (TDOS) and the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) shared a picture of two clowns to its Twitter and Facebook pages.
The clowns were standing in a wooded area in the photo. The caption on the THP Facebook post said, “THP wants everyone to watch for clowns trying to lure children in to the woods. They are possibly child predators looking for an easy child to target.”
According to the THP post, the photo of the two clowns in the woods was taken in the Jackson, Tennessee, area. By Sunday morning, the post had been shared more than 5,000 times.
Late Saturday night, the Portland Police Department raised questions about the validity of the TDOS and THP posts. The police department posted to its own Facebook page, writing in part: “This picture which has been in numerous cities, belongs to a performance arts group called The Plymouth Clowns. The group is in Plymouth, New Hampshire and their photos were stolen… Re-sharing the stories on FB only generate fear and will ultimately result to something dangerous. It is a HOAX!”
Early Sunday morning, The Plymouth Clowns themselves posted about the confusion to their own Facebook page, writing in part, “We have received a lot of attention recently regarding our photos being used in Tennessee… We thank the multiple TN police departments who have been in contact with and working with us to help clear our name in the aftermath of our photos usage.”
When reached on Sunday, The Plymouth Clowns told News 2 the photo is of their performance group. It was posted to the group’s Facebook page on Aug. 21, more than a month before it was shared by the TDOS and THP.
News 2 contacted TDOS Sunday morning about the photo in question. Later that morning, both TDOS and THP deleted their social media posts, writing, “The photo of the ‘clowns’ was not a photo taken in Tennessee. This was a photo circulated throughout social media. While we want to provide awareness about this issue, the photo is not local. We continue to monitor this situation as it has been reported in Tennessee.”
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is a division of the Department of Safety.
Despite the confusion over the repurposed photo, crime involving clowns has been reported in Tennessee in recent weeks. Last week, a Coffee County teen said he was attacked by someone dressed as a clown.