VALDOSTA, Ga. - Eric Sheppard, the Valdosta State University student protester wanted by police in connection with a gun found in his backpack, says he will not turn himself in to authorities.
Sheppard stated he will “annihilate” anyone who comes after him and issued what appears to be threats of violence at Saturday's graduation ceremonies at Lowndes High School in Valdosta.
The comments were made in a rambling, profanity-laced “memorandum ultimatum” sent to The Valdosta Daily Times condemning white people and local police.
A brief video showing Sheppard wearing sunglasses inside what appeared to be an SUV accompanied his statement. The video referenced a protest planned in conjunction with the graduation over the disputed death of teenager Kendrick Johnson at the high school more than two years ago.
Because of Sheppard's comments about the weekend's events, The Daily Times shared the information provided to the paper with the Valdosta Police Department.
Chief of Police Brian Childress said his department reviewed the information provided by The Times and that a safety plan is in place for the graduation ceremony this weekend.
Childress said the memorandum seems to be a publicity stunt.
Childress said he has notified the sheriff's office, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI about the memorandum.
In response to the protest being organized on social media at what would have been the high school graduation of Johnson, authorities had already developed a security plan for Saturday's ceremonies.
Johnson's body was discovered in a rolled-up mat in the high school's old gymnasium Jan. 11, 2013. The sheriff's office and a state autopsy said his death was a freak accident, caused by asphyxiation when he fell head-first into the upright mat while trying to retrieve an athletic shoe and became trapped.
Johnson's parents have contested the finding. They believe their son was a victim of foul play. Sheppard has stated repeatedly he believes Johnson was murdered.
Johnson's death has been under review by U.S. Attorney Michael Moore and a federal grand jury in Macon for more than 18 months.
The memorandum by Sheppard referenced this weekends graduation, saying, “When my People descend upon that Hellish pit on May 23rd for commemoration of Kendrick Johnson's life and if they are met with even the slightest inclination of resistance by any pale skinned beast or aid they are more than Justified to Take your Head and post it on a stake for the Entire world to See.”
Sheppard spoke to The Daily Times by telephone Monday, saying he would release the video and statement, including his position on the police manhunt for him. Both were sent to the paper Thursday.
“Many still question the possibility of my surrendering to the people who call themselves 'authorities,' ” the statement said. “To give you a simple answer, No. I will not turn myself over to any white man,” he wrote.
He added he would defend himself and “annihilate those who come after me.”
Sheppard said he wanted his video and statement made public before the graduation ceremonies and the protest expected at Lowndes High School this Saturday — a demonstration he described as the “Kendrick Johnson Commemoration for his Life.”
Marcus Reed, who describes himself as a business partner and friend to Sheppard, reached out to The Daily Times shortly after Sheppard went on the lam a month ago.
Reed said Sheppard wanted the opportunity to explain his beliefs in greater detail, along with his position about surrendering to authorities.
A few days earlier, Sheppard's father held a news conference in Valdosta urging his son to give himself up. Then an Atlanta law firm, saying it had been retained by Sheppard's family, convened a press conference in metro Atlanta advocating for his “safe” surrender.
Sheppard's “memorandum ultimatum” statement contained the same kind of language that had characterized his mostly ignored protest campaign on the Valdosta State University campus against racial inequality.
But his action created a social media firestorm when videos posted online showed him walking on the American flag, and an attempt by Michelle Manhart, an Air Force veteran and one-time Playboy model, to take possession of the flag.
In the days after the flag incident, Sheppard resumed his campus protests, causing a person who was not at the protest to call police and say she had been contacted by a friend who overheard Sheppard issuing threats of violence.
When police responded to the scene, Sheppard's supporters denied there had been threats, but after he was asked to leave the area, he complied, leaving behind a backpack.
Authorities noticed the unattended backpack, searched it and reported finding a handgun. They also said they were in possession of a receipt indicating the time and date when Sheppard purchased the weapon from a local pawn shop.
Subsequently, a warrant was issued for his arrest April 21, 2015 on the charge of having a weapon on the campus. He has been on the run since.
Zachary is the editor for the Valdosta Daily Times.