Arrests sought after noose put on statue of James Meredith at Ole Miss

By Nick Valencia and Marlena Baldacci

The University of Mississippi announced Friday that it was trying to arrest three freshman students suspected of desecrating the campus statue of civil rights icon James Meredith.

"We believe the three folks we've identified and provided information to prosecutors about were involved" in the desecration of the statue, Lee Tyner, the general counsel for Ole Miss, told CNN in a phone interview.

The three 19-year-olds, whose identities have not been released by police, are from Georgia and are freshmen at Ole Miss, according to a prepared statement from the university chief of police, Calvin Sellers.

This week, someone placed a noose around the bronze statue and left behind a flag with the symbol of the Confederacy.

"Sellers said the University Police Department (UPD) had gathered enough evidence by late Wednesday to bring charges through the student judicial process against two of the students, and both state and federal authorities were working in close coordination to determine whether criminal charges were applicable," the statement said.

The students were set to appear for questioning with university police Thursday but never showed up, according to the statement.

"No arrest warrants have so far been issued to our knowledge," Danny Blanton, director of public relations for Ole Miss, told CNN.

"I'm shocked but not surprised by what happened," Judy Meredith, wife of civil rights activists James Meredith, told CNN by phone Thursday. "I'm surprised something didn't happen to the statue earlier."

In 1962, James Meredith became the first black student admitted to Ole Miss, and it took a Supreme Court ruling and federal police presence to ensure his admittance. The deeply religious Meredith has said that he disagrees with the statue on Second Amendment grounds and believes that it should be removed from campus.

"It's a false idol, and it's an insult not only to God, it's an insult to me," he reportedly said in an interview with The New York Times about his commemorative statue.

The university's alumni association offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the suspects as a way of expressing its outrage about the racially insensitive gesture. Also, in an open letter, 15 fraternity presidents at Ole Miss pledged disciplinary action against the perpetrators if they were linked to any of their fraternities.

"These individuals chose our university's most visible symbol of unity and educational accessibility to express their disagreement with our values," University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones said in a statement released Monday. "Their ideas have no place here, and our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on the statue."

Racial slurs alleged

In a separate race-related incident Monday night, Kiesha Reeves, an African-American student who is a third-year senior at the school, reported to police that someone threw alcohol at her from a moving car while also hurling racial slurs.

On Friday, Reeves told CNN that she was still emotionally affected by what happened. Police are investigating the incident, which occurred a few miles off campus at a residential complex housing mostly Ole Miss students.

"It's unclear at this time if the incident is related to the incident last Sunday on campus," Oxford Deputy Police Chief James Owens told CNN. "This is pretty unusual. This is a college town. This doesn't usually happen here."

The racial episodes this week drew renewed concerns about race relations on campus.

"These events continue to happen semester after semester and year after year," said an editorial in The Daily Mississippian, the school's newspaper.

Michael Oher, an Ole Miss alumnus made famous after his story inspired the movie "The Blind Side," took to Twitter on Monday to share his feelings.

"Can't believe they are still doing stuff like that at Ole Miss," he tweeted. "Really a shame!!"

Other students who spoke with CNN affiliate WMC shared similar feelings:

"I just feel like whoever did that had to be completely ignorant to the impact that he had on this campus to deface school property and such a monumental statue like that," sophomore Raven Lyles said.

"I think it's absolutely terrible what they did," freshman John Choat said. "I think they should pay for it."

"To be honest, we haven't come as far as we think we've come," said another student, Bryston Tucker.

"Obviously there is a little bit of work left to do in terms of our social fabric," Meredith's son John told CNN. "My father always has said it's not a matter of civil rights, it is a matter of citizenship. Anybody that is a resident of the state of Mississippi, the same rights should apply to all colors/races."


HLN's Amanda Sloane contributed to this report.



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