University cancels all classes for flag rally
VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - All classes have been canceled for Friday at Valdosta State University, in anticipation of large crowds at a rally to support the American flag.
Nearly 4,000 flag supporters are scheduled to attend, according to a "Flags Over VSU" event page on Facebook.
It's a response to an incident one week earlier when a veteran disrupted a group of students who were walking on an American flag during a protest.
Veteran Michelle Manhart was seen on video taking the flag from protestors and refusing to return it.
Manhart was eventually detained by university police and given a warning. She was then banned from the campus.
Since the initial demonstration, the university had also received various threats on social media from alumni, parents of future students, and community members threatening to withdraw support from the university because of the protest.
University President William McKinney asked students, faculty, and staff to join in dedicating Friday, April 24 as a "Day of Reaffirmation."
Valdosta State University issued this release:
After further discussions with local law enforcement and in the interest of the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, Valdosta State University will suspend normal business operations for Friday, April 24.
All classes and on-campus events scheduled for Friday, April 24, have been canceled.
Only essential employees- meaning those who have been notified by their supervisor- are to report to campus.
For students living in on-campus housing, we will have an increased law enforcement presence on campus to ensure their continued safety throughout the protests scheduled to occur around Main Campus. Palms Dining will be open.
The university will resume normal operations for all classes and events scheduled on Saturday, April 25.
The search for Eric Sheppard
The university also confirmed on Tuesday that that a man brought a gun onto campus in a backpack during student protests.
Officials said "unmistakable evidence" links that gun to one man, Eric Sheppard.
They believe Sheppard is in hiding, and somewhere away from campus.
Sheppard's father made a public plea on Wednesday to his son, asking him to turn himself in.
"Son, you know we love you and have always taught you to do the right thing and make wise decisions," Sheppard's father said in a statement. "Please make the right decision and turn yourself in, either to the authorities or to me, and we will handle this together. We love you and are here for you, as you requested."
Inside the protest
In a video uploaded to YouTube on Monday, Eric Sheppard explained to onlookers why he and other protesters walked on the American Flag.
"That flag represents white supremacy racism which is plaguing the entire earth, so when we step on that flag we are stepping on racism, white supremacy. We are stepping on the things that were erected alongside our genocide and our holocaust," he said.
"I am a terrorist toward lies. I'm a terrorist toward liars. I'm a terrorist toward those that are wicked, so yes, I am a terrorist toward white people," Sheppard also said.
A judge issued an arrest warrant for Sheppard on Tuesday.
Anyone with information on Sheppard's location is asked to call campus police or 911.
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