In mid-September 2023, several videos were shared on TikTok that purportedly showed students in an unnamed Ohio school sheltering in place due to on-campus sightings of mythical creatures known as "skinwalkers."
In the Navajo culture, a skinwalker is "a type of harmful witch who has the ability to turn into, possess, or disguise themselves as an animal," according to LegendsofAmerica.com, an online database of legends.
As of this writing, at least nine TikTok videos promoted a version of the rumor, and, together, they had more than 30 million views. They were all posted by user @killerclownstiktok, an account known for interesting, horror-themed content.
The videos posted by the account showed several different classrooms receiving word of a need to go into a lockdown. Some captions claimed the lockdown occurred on Sept. 17, while others said Sept. 18 or Sept. 19.
The video with the highest engagement — the most views and comments — was captioned, "Reports of skinwalkers sighted at school in Ohio [on] Sept. 17, 2023." It was viewed more than 18 million times on TikTok and also appeared on YouTube.
Despite the rumor's virality, many commenters seemed to know the videos did not really show students in lockdown due to skinwalkers or any other mythical creature (Bigfoot, the Lock Ness Monster, a chupacabra, unicorns, etc.). Rather, the clips were little more than entertainment under the TikTok genre "#horrortok."
The rumor's fictional premise aside, this clue gave away the fakery: Sept. 17 – the date when the alleged "lockdown" took place in at least some clips – was a Sunday. Generally speaking, U.S. schools are closed on weekends.
Most videos spreading the rumor appeared to show multiple angles from a camera on a tripod. Why? In reality, the recordings were apparent attempts to document high school students doing active shooter drills at what may have been multiple schools.
In at least one video with more than 5.3 million views, a woman can be heard announcing an active shooter drill over an intercom. The announcement mentioned "a man with a weapon."
There were no further details about where, or under what circumstances, the footage was recorded. It's entirely possible that none was captured in Ohio.
Also, footage from the most-viewed TIkTok video was several years old, according to a reverse image search of the clip's first frame. The original upload was seemingly removed.
After posting the rumor for the first time on Sept. 17, the @killerclownstiktok user uploaded the other videos about skinwalkers supposedly being reported in Ohio schools on Sept. 18 or Sept. 19.
On @killerclownstiktok's profile, a pinned video from April 9 with the caption, "Reports of clown attack at school in Ohio [on] April 9, 2023," featured the same footage as the September video supposedly showing the lockdown due to skinwalkers.
Same video, different caption.
For further reading, we recommend The Legend of 'Sprinkles the Killer Clown.'