Rumors of a potential threat to graduates and attendees have caused Handley High School officials, along with Roanoke law enforcement, to change the venue of the school’s Thursday graduation ceremony.
Roanoke police chief Jonathan Caldwell, who met with Roanoke City Schools Superintendent Greg Foster and Handley High School Principal Todd Cole last week, said there is no “credible threat” of danger, but the change was made out of an abundance of caution. The ceremony has been moved from Wright Field to the Handley High School gymnasium, and each graduate has been given an allotment of six tickets for family and friends to attend.
“There’s no specific credible threat that we know of, but there’s rumors going around,” Caldwell said. “None of us wanted to be looking at each other afterwards and saying ‘What if we had done something,’ so we decided to be safe.”
Caldwell said the gym provides a much more controlled environment that can be more closely patrolled by law enforcement, which will have an enhanced presence at the ceremony. That presence was foreshadowed by a large contingent of law enforcement officers at Handley’s capping ceremony Monday night. Approximately 30 Roanoke Police officers and Randolph County Sheriff’s deputies that are part of a recently formed Special Response Team were on hand, many of whom were heavily armed and wearing protective gear.
Unless new information comes to light before Thursday’s graduation ceremony the protective presence is expected to be similar for that event as well.
Caldwell said little thought was given to canceling the ceremony altogether, based on the lack of credibility to the rumors.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that anything is going to happen,” he said. “But we want these kids to be able to have their graduation and feel safe in the process.”
The rumors that circulated Monday were connected to a potential retaliation for the suspected murder of Dwight Lamar Poole that took place in the early morning hours of Mother’s Day, May 14, in Roanoke.
While Caldwell confirmed that Roanoke PD has a list of suspects in that case, the investigation continues and no arrests had been made as of Tuesday afternoon.
Poole was in a vehicle with two other people when he was shot and killed. The two passengers survived the attack but have not yet identified the attacker.
“Without somebody pointing the finger and saying, ‘This is who did it,’ we have to take the long way around to get that information,” Caldwell said.
Investigators continue to compile evidence in an effort to identify the correct suspect and make an arrest.
This will not be the first time that the Handley graduation has taken place in the gym. Weather has forced a change of venues before.
Handley released a statement on its website Monday afternoon, which read:
“It is with much consideration and thought that the decision has been made to move our class of 2023 graduation ceremony to the Handley High School Gymnasium. After collaborating with various groups and agencies, the decision was made out of an abundance of caution. The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is of paramount importance. Students will be issued a limited number of tickets to distribute to family and friends. Only those ticket holders will be allowed into the ceremony. No loitering will be allowed. A livestream option will be available via ISchool Sports Network for those wishing to watch remotely. However, there will be no watch option available on campus.”
The graduation ceremony will begin at 7:30 p.m.