Police charge dad with ‘inducing panic’ for wearing clown mask to punish daughter

Incident prompted concerned neighbour to fire a gun out of window

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 3:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 8:03pm

A United States man who tried to discipline his six-year-old daughter by chasing her around in a clown mask has been charged after she ran screaming to a stranger’s flat – prompting that neighbour to fire a gunshot into the air.

The incident occurred just before 10pm Saturday, when 25-year-old Vernon Barrett Jnr donned a clown mask and began chasing his young daughter outside their flat in Boardman Township, a suburb of Youngstown, Ohio.

It was supposed to be a prank, Barrett later told police, a way to get the child to behave without resorting to spanking. A police report did not specify why he was trying to discipline his daughter that day.

Instead, the frightened child ran to a female stranger’s car nearby, jumped inside and said she was being chased by a clown, police said. That woman later told police that the man wearing the clown mask pulled the child out of her car. Unsure of what was happening, the woman called 911.

In the time it took officers to arrive, the child ran into the adjacent flat of 48-year-old Dion Santiago, declared she was scared and asked whether she could stay there because a clown was chasing her, according to a police report.

“Santiago turned off the lights and looked out his flat window and observed Barrett standing outside the building with a clown mask on,” responding officer Joseph O’Grady wrote in his incident report. “ ... [Santiago] grabbed his firearm and fired a shot out of his window.”

When officers responded to the scene, Santiago and Barrett were yelling at each other – the former still standing at his window and the latter still wearing a clown mask – and the girl remained too afraid to come out, police said. The child was identified in the incident report only by her initials.

She eventually emerged after a woman in Santiago’s flat escorted her out, police said. O’Grady wrote that he had to physically separate Barrett and Santiago and call for backup because the two neighbours were getting into a heated argument, with Barrett insisting that Santiago had fired his gun at him.

Barrett was charged with child endangerment and inducing panic; Santiago was charged with using weapons while intoxicated, police said. Both were released and are expected to appear in court Tuesday.

The child was placed in the custody of Barrett’s girlfriend while Barrett was detained, police said.

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, a psychologist who has written several books on parenting and child development, said that it wasn’t surprising that the child in Ohio wouldn’t have been able to process that the man chasing her in the clown mask was her father.

“A 6-year-old’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is a little shaky,” she said.