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ODU police identify ‘person of interest’ in Virginia Tech football locker room theft

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Virginia Tech Old Dominion Football

Old Dominion coach Ricky Rahne (right) shakes hands with Virginia Tech coach Brent Pry after ODU's season-opening win on Sept. 2 in Norfolk.

On Sept. 3, as fans were still reveling in Old Dominion’s surprising 20-17 football win over Virginia Tech the night before, officers from ODU’s police department walked through the visitors’ locker room at S.B. Ballard Stadium, looking to identify every possible security vulnerability.

It was the first step in a long process that has resulted in a coveted lead and new measures to prevent security breaches.

University interim police chief Garrett Shelton said Wednesday that the department has identified “a person of interest” in the investigation into the theft of items taken from the Hokies’ locker room during the game.

Though Shelton did not identify the person, he did say who the person is not.

“It’s fair to say that the individual identified is not student, faculty or staff at the university,” Shelton said.

At some point during the sold-out, season-opening game, someone entered Tech’s locker room and took some of the players’ personal items. The total value of the items, Shelton said, was less than $8,000.

Still, the incident has led to a rethinking of security in the stadium in advance of Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference opener against Arkansas State, the first game at the stadium since the theft. Shelton said a combination of additional personnel and technology will make it more difficult for anyone to breach the area.

“We obviously want everybody to come here and have the best time they can without feeling like it’s a police state,” said Shelton, a Martinsville native who has been the interim chief for about six months and with the department for seven years. “We try to balance that with safety, so we rely a lot on technology. But I can tell you right now that from that event, to get into those spaces, I’m not sure it’ll be possible. You’d have to go through several layers to get where that person got before. That’s just not going to happen this time.”

The theft made national news, with outlets like ESPN and The Athletic reporting on it.

Two days after the Friday night game, Tech’s athletic department confirmed in a statement that unspecified items had been stolen.

ODU coach Ricky Rahne was not particularly surprised that a bad actor acted badly when given the opportunity.

“I think we’re going on a good 10,000-year streak of crime at this point,” Rahne said days after the incident. “So I don’t think that it’s a new thing. I wish, obviously, that it wouldn’t have happened because I think it detracted from some very special things that happened in this community.

“You wish that people wouldn’t take advantage of situations like this, but this is what happens.”

Shelton, a 35-year veteran of policing, said he was a victim of theft when he was an officer.

“That was one of the most violating things that you could have happen to you,” he said. “It’s a sad state that you come in and do something like this, but I hope we can resolve it and get to the bottom of it for everybody. But I think we’ve certainly resolved how it occurred, and we have put measures in place not to have the ‘how’ happen again.”

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