Tuesday, August 09, 2005
'Shaq attack' in Star City
Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal is looking at real estate in Bedford County and is already involved with local law enforcement agencies.
Bedford County residents might be getting a 7-foot-1, 340-pound new neighbor.
Shaquille O'Neal and cousin Andre Spellman have looked into buying between 700 and 800 acres in small-town Bedford County. They hope to have farms, a man-made lake, horses and a house or two, the basketball powerhouse said Monday.
O'Neal is visiting Bedford County for the first time this week for law enforcement training and to film public service announcements to educate parents and children about the dangers of online predators. He is a member of Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, the Bedford County Sheriff Office's Internet Crimes Against Children task force. And he is national spokesman for the Safe Surfin' Foundation.
He became a Bedford County sheriff's deputy Sunday. O'Neal was issued a standard .40-caliber Glock service weapon, and he scored "expert" on the shooting range, Sheriff Mike Brown said. O'Neal said he fired a handgun, a rifle, a shotgun and a machine gun - the same weapons other deputies shoot to get certified. The sheriff's office also lent O'Neal a marked sport utility vehicle, specially fitted for a giant. The back seat had to be taken out, and the driver's seat was moved 14 inches back and 3 inches lower.
Brown has said he used his entertainment and professional sports contacts to approach O'Neal. O'Neal has said he became interested in police work after touring the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He has done police work in Los Angeles and Miami.
Brown said Monday that the 33-year-old O'Neal works well with other deputies and is interested in law enforcement for the right reasons.
"This guy is very sincere. He doesn't need any more badges. He doesn't need any other honors," Brown said.
O'Neal autographed basketballs and posed for pictures during a reception Monday afternoon in the U.S. Marshals office in Roanoke, and later accepted a plaque recognizing him for his work with Operation Blue Ridge Thunder.
Wearing a badge and gun and a black, short-sleeve shirt emblazoned with the words "Blue Ridge Thunder," Shaq waved to fans at the reception and ducked slightly as he entered a room where lunch was to be served.
Sitting comfortably and talking quietly, O'Neal said he had long wanted to work against child predators. He said he and Brown plan to lobby on Capitol Hill for tougher laws against such criminals.
"It's very disturbing that these people do things like that," O'Neal said.
He also said he was impressed by Amanda Staubs, 19, who was abducted and sexually assaulted at age 14 in Winchester by a 37-year-old man posing online as a 14-year-old boy.
O'Neal, Staubs and her mother, Vicki, filmed public service announcements Sunday at Liberty University, where O'Neal met the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Staubs said she agreed to meet the man in her neighborhood after he threatened to kill her parents if she didn't. Putting her parents' safety before her own, Staubs said, she told them she was going to baby sit. The man took her to a hotel and abused her for about five hours, she said.
On Monday, Staubs called O'Neal, who was visibly moved by her story, a "great person." "He was really emotional about it," she said. "It really touched his heart."
O'Neal said he just wanted to make Staubs smile.
"That's a brave little girl, and I'm sure there's a million stories like hers nationwide," he said.
"Basically, what we tell children is we don't mind them playing on the Internet. But don't give out personal information," O'Neal said. "Tell Mommy and Daddy to tell the cops."