VALDOSTA, Ga. — Authorities say a Valdosta State University student at the center of recent protest involving the American flag that garnered national media attention is being sought by police for carrying a gun in his backpack on campus.
Now considered to be “armed and dangerous” by area officials, Eric Sheppard is the student who led a protest on campus Friday that included walking on an American flag. That protest drew the ire of Air Force veteran and former Playboy model Michelle Manhart, whose attempts to take the flag from protesters went viral.
VSU police were performing extra patrols Tuesday afternoon as part of tightened security following the protests when they found a backpack outside the library with a handgun inside, according to a statement released by the university.
The authorities said they found what they called “unmistakable evidence” linking the gun to Sheppard.
According to the press release, a judge issued an arrest warrant for Sheppard, but after an extensive search authorities issued a campus alert saying they considered him to be armed and dangerous, asking for the public’s help in locating him.
VSU officials said they believe Sheppard had left the campus and had gone into hiding.
Sheppard has been a part of a media firestorm since Manhart's disruption of his group's protest Friday. At the time, Manhart was taken into custody but not charged in the incident, after Sheppard said he did not want to press charges.
Since that time, Sheppard has continued his protests on campus.
Campus police discovered the backpack Tuesday shortly after another incident involving Shepperd. They responded after a 911 caller said two men on campus were issuing “terroristic threats.”
Valdosta State University Police Department officer Matthew Rudisail arrived on campus and found Sheppard and Eric Cureton, who fit the description provided by the caller.
When questioned, Sheppard denied any account of terroristic threats. But Cureton grew emotional.
"I'm from here," Cureton said. "This is my city. I don't need this.
"This is not what I planned today."
Cureton later said that the entire situation resulted from a big misunderstanding. He was afraid for his friend, he said. Cureton said he wanted to try to get Sheppard to stop demonstrating.
After having a private word with them, Officer Rudisail let Sheppard and Cureton go.
Following the incident, authorities said the backpack was located, linked to Sheppard, the warrant was issued and the search ensued for the suspect.
Details of this story were contributed by the Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times.