Va. police thwart planned attack at high school prom
Virginia Beach police have charged two teens with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act
By Mechelle Hankerson
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia Beach police have charged two teens with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act during Bayside High School’s prom on Saturday at The Westin in Town Center.
Police announced on Monday that they arrested Michael Coleman, 18, and a 17-year-old from Virginia Beach who was not named after a semi-automatic rifle was found in a hotel room and a 9 mm handgun was discarded outdoors.
“Extra security was on hand at the prom after police advised us of previous neighborhood incidents occurring within the Bayside school zone,” Bayside High School Principal Jim Miller said in a message to the school community Monday afternoon.
About May 30, Virginia Beach police learned that individuals with no ties to Bayside High were trying to buy tickets to the school’s prom. They went on sale at Bayside High for $75 a person on April 23 and were available through May 11, according to the school.
Police Chief James Cervera called that information “highly unusual” and officers began working with the school division to investigate and provide a security plan for the event.
On Saturday night, police increased security around The Westin Hotel, where the prom was held, and around the Town Center area.
Between 6 and 10 p.m., officers identified one of the people who had tried to get into the prom but wasn’t affiliated with the school. When they approached him, he ran and discarded a 9-mm Taurus handgun, Cervera said. He was not apprehended that night, but police were able to obtain a search warrant for a room at the hotel. There, they identified a 17-year-old from Virginia Beach and found a 45-caliber semi-automatic rifle, Cervera said.
That teen is charged with conspiracy to carry out a terrorist act and possession of a weapon as a juvenile, Cervera said.
With the help of Norfolk police, Coleman, 18, of the 5300 block of Commons Court in Virginia Beach, was also arrested. He faces a charge of conspiracy to carry out a terrorist act and two counts of carrying a concealed weapon. Norfolk police took him into custody without incident because he faces unrelated firearms charges in that city, Cervera said.
Coleman was being held at the Norfolk Jail on Monday, according to jail records. He was charged with four felony counts of attempted malicious wounding, four felony counts of firearm use in the first degree, and one misdemeanor count of reckless handling of a firearm stemming from an incident on June 8.
A Virginia Beach schools spokeswoman said Coleman was not a student or graduate of the division.
In Virginia Beach, police are still working with the Commonwealth’s Attorney office to determine appropriate charges, Cervera said.
Blake Stevens, a graduating senior at Bayside High School, said nothing seemed out of the ordinary the night of prom – there was no evacuation or urgent warning. He said he had heard a rumor about 10 days ago about a threat at prom, but then “totally forgot about it.”
“We all knew we were safe, we had enough security,” he said.
Stevens said he saw about six police officers at prom, and that there were several security measures. Students had to present IDs before entering and had to empty their pockets and open their jackets. Also, security used a wand metal detector to check attendees and all guests were confirmed both on a student’s ticket and an official guest list.
Stevens is one of about 400 students graduating Tuesday, and the principal reminded the school community that it was a ticketed event and that attendees will be subjected to security checks. Graduation will be held at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, but Stevens said he isn’t worried.
“Bayside is not a threatening community,” he said.
©2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)