Pa. High School Excludes Student Speaker From Graduation Over Death Threats

Tyrone Lewis has everything a high school senior could want: the title of class president, a legacy as a star basketball player and a full scholarship to Niagara University.

What he doesn't have is a spot at graduation.

Lewis will be excluded from Friday's commencement at Harry S Truman High School because he is reportedly the target of death threats. He was slated to give a speech at the ceremony, but instead will talk to his classmates via videotape under an arrangement worked out between the school district and his family.

Police say they've heard from multiple sources that Lewis is in danger because of his sister's alleged involvement in a fatal shooting last August.

Rachael Lewis testified against the accused killer, who police say belongs to a gang from nearby Trenton, N.J. Rachael Lewis has been charged in the case as well; no one in the Lewis family could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Bucks County prosecutor T. Gary Gambardella, who is involved with the Rachael Lewis case, said no one has told him about the threats. He said that while police should take precautions, Tyrone Lewis deserves to be with his classmates for graduation.

"I don't think they should empower gang members by giving in to them," Gambardella said.

The threats have added credibility because Tyrone Lewis was shot at while driving in Bristol Township in April. Lewis escaped injury but a passenger was hit and paralyzed. The case remains unsolved, and police aren't sure if Lewis was a target or if it was a random road-rage incident.

Either way, police and district officials say for Lewis' own safety — and the safety of hundreds of others expected at the event — he cannot attend graduation.

"How do we protect students, staff and teachers?" Police Chief James McAndrew said. "The easiest way is to take away the threat. If we don't, what do we tell the parents of a student who is shot or trampled in a panic if there is a shooting?"

Police plan an increased presence at the high school stadium where the ceremony will take place. School board vice president Sherri Champey said officials are "doing everything possible to make the stadium safe."

"I can't guarantee everyone's safety 100 percent," Champey said, "but I am going to rely on the police to do their job."

But even with the beefed-up security, Lewis and his family might not be the only ones sitting out.

Senior Kevin MacMillan, 18, said Wednesday that "a lot of people aren't letting their kids walk."

MacMillan and his friend Paul Bracken, 17, said they weren't worried about their safety. Banning Lewis from the ceremony is unfair, they added, even if they allow the remote broadcast of his speech.

"It's safe, but it's not the same," Bracken said. "Everyone knows that."