Threats cancel Morrow parade

By Greg Gelpi and Ed Brock

The thrill of homecoming has been tainted for Morrow High School students due to threats of violence connected to the fatal shooting of a teen-ager that occurred one week ago.

Administrators at the high school decided Thursday morning to cancel Friday's homecoming parade due to the threats that came nearly a week after 19-year-old Devon Gates was shot to death during a birthday party at a home near Forest Park.

Vap Chhoum, 28, of College Park, has been charged with murder and possession of a weapon in the commission of a crime in connection with that shooting and remains in Clayton County Jail pending a preliminary hearing on Thursday.

Gates' brother plays high school football for Morrow.

School administrators said to the school resource officer at Morrow High School "that something was going to happen in retaliation for Gates' death," Clayton County police Capt. Jeff Turner said.

The rumors also included Forest Park High School and Mount Zion High School and Turner said he didn't know where the school got the information.

"There was a threat of violence, and that was basically it," said Area 2 Superintendent Valya Lee. "We just wanted to make sure that the students and everyone involved is safe."

Forest Park police provide the school resource officer for that school and Capt. Chris Matson said they were also aware of rumors of possible violence.

The decision to cancel the parade was made after a meeting between Morrow High Principal Morris Blasingame and central office personnel, Lee said.

She called threats "rare" and said nothing in the school system's day-to-day operations is ever "usual."

"One doesn't need to take any chances when talking about this number of people," Lee said.

She explained that the school system could provide better security in closed environments, such as in the school and at the game, but wouldn't be able to provide such security with students parading around campus.

The decision was a disappointment for the students, said Andrea Genreau whose daughter is a junior at Morrow High School.

"They had been preparing for it all week. It's pretty scary," Genreau said. "It ruins the whole weekend for them."

Morrow teachers told students of "rumors" of violence when they announced the parade was canceled, freshman Monse Aguilar, 15, said.

Walking home from school, Aguilar and his friend Isabel Mejia said they have heard about gang activity and worry about their trip home.

"It's dangerous," Aguilar said.

Meanwhile, Morrow High School's homecoming game against Stockbridge High School, is scheduled to be played Saturday night at Twelve Oaks Stadium in Lovejoy.

Kyle Mann, a teacher at Stockbridge, was unaware of the threats.

"I just don't personally know of any threats," he said, but didn't rule that school administration knew of the threats.

Even after learning of the threats, Mann said he wouldn't change his plans for the game.

Clayton County police usually provide about 10 officers for security at high school football games and Turner said he expects about the same number of officers at Saturday's game and there are no plans for extra precautions such as searching bags. However, there will be extra patrols through the parking lot, Turner said.

Although the game is set to be played, Clayton County Athletic Director Bob Brannon said it would be canceled even a minute before kickoff if need be in the interest of safety. Brannon is responsible for maintaining security at the county's football games.

Some members of the Gates family have heard the rumors but they don't know where they originated, said Devon Gates' aunt Valerie Turner.

"This is up to the justice system," Turner said. "We're dealing with this through our faith and God is love, not hate."

Sar Chhoum, Vap Chhoum's sister, said her family has not received any threats.

The funeral for Devon Gates will be held Saturday at Paradise Church of God in Christ on Conley Road in Forest Park and he will be buried in Lincoln Cemetery on Simpson Road in Atlanta.

Several people were injured Thursday night when a deck at the Hickory Drive home where the shooting occurred collapsed during a candlelight vigil there for Devon Gates. Turner said one of her nephews was injured in the collapse but had been released from the hospital by Friday.

There is no indication that the deck collapse was an intentional act.

"It was just an old deck and it was rotten," said Clayton County Senior Administrative Inspector Paul Hardy. "It was in disrepair."

Morrow High has about 1,200 students with most participating in its annual homecoming parade. About 1,200 people attend the school's football games.