JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Scary clowns have gotten a little too real for Target.
Two weeks before Halloween, the company is pulling some clown masks off its shelves and out of its online store after sightings of menacing clowns across the country.
"Given the current environment," Target spokesman Joshua Thomas said, "we have made the decision to remove a variety of clown masks from our assortment, both in stores and online."
Home Depot took a similar step last month and pulled a Halloween decoration called the Scary Peeper Creeper from its stores in Canada following complaints from shoppers.
Target declined to say which masks it pulled. Some were still available at Target.com on Monday via links to Spirit Halloween.com and HalloweenCostumes.com. For example, Target was selling a "horror clown mask" for $19.99 through Spirit Halloween.
In a News4Jax Twitter poll conducted Monday, 52 percent of people agreed with Target pulling the masks off the shelves, 37 percent disagreed and 11 were undecided.
"Personally, I don't like them very much. I think they are very scary," said Leslie Baccash, who was shopping at the Target on Jacksonville's Southside on Monday.
At Halloween Express on Beach Boulevard, owner Tammy Stiles said clown costume sales have skyrocketed, so much so that she's had to order more.
"Typically, the scarier the better," Stiles said. "We've got a lot of people that want the clown masks. They want the clown outfits. They want all of it."
Whether they are frightening or not, Stiles said, she plans on continuing to sell clown costumes.
"We hope they do the appropriate thing and have fun with it and not take it to the wrong side," Stiles said.
Law enforcement agencies throughout Northeast Florida have been on high alert after clown sightings were reported in Gainesville, as well as in Nassau and Flagler counties, last month.
"If someone is doing this, they need to be careful because they may go on the wrong property and get shot," Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said.
Police in Greenville, South Carolina, were alerted this summer to clowns trying to lure children from an apartment complex into the woods. In Texas and West Virginia, people dressed as clowns were arrested this month for chasing strangers with sticks and baseball bats.
Gunmen in clown masks have reportedly robbed gas stations in Ohio and Kentucky, and robbers in clown masks reportedly hit Taco Bell and Domino's Pizza restaurants in Phoenix. On Sunday, a man in Los Angeles County was reportedly arrested for shooting at a clown who brandished a knife.
Randy Christensen, president of the World Clown Association, which was founded in 1982 and has an annual convention, took no position on Target's decision. But he drew a distinction between horror as an entertainment genre and something darker.
"We are against any usage of a clown-masked persona to terrorize the general public," he said.