Authorities have arrested a North Carolina high school student and Eagle Scout who says he accidentally brought a shotgun onto school property.
The student, David “Cole” Withrow, told reporters that he was skeet shooting over the weekend, and forgot to take the unloaded gun out of his truck before driving to Princeton High School. When he realized his mistake, he used the office phone to call his mother for help. But administrators overheard, and took action.
A local news channel reported that Withrow had been expelled immediately, but Johnston County Schools issued a statement saying the student’s fate was still up in the air pending a hearing.
“There were inaccuracies that have been reported and disseminated concerning actions taken by law enforcement and school personnel and officials,” wrote Jimmy Lawrence, attorney for the school district, in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The student involved in this situation has not been expelled from school or suspended for 365 days.”
Tracey Peedin Jones, a spokesperson for the school district, said these details were made public in order to correct ABC11’s erroneous news story, but declined to comment further.
Withrow was indeed arrested and charged with a felony count of carrying a weapon on school property, according to police records.
Under the school district’s zero tolerance policy, any student who brings a weapon to school must be suspended for a minimum of one full year. The policy is necessary to prevent shootings, said Lawrence.
“This has never been more true based on recent events that have occurred at schools in the United States in the last few years,” wrote Lawrence.
But Withrow’s friends and supporters in the Johnston County community contend that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, since his actions were inadvertent and harmless.
Several students protested Withmore’s suspension by painting “Free Cole” on their cars.
“Everyone makes a mistake, he tried to do the right thing by it and it’s upsetting,” said Tyler Pope, a student at Princeton High School.
Others said the punishment was especially unfair, given that an assistant principal who accidentally brought a gun to Princeton High School received only a three-day suspension, and wasn’t charged with a felony.
Though the district’s policies mandate that students who break the weapons rule be expelled and handed over to the police, the policies are less severe for employees, and merely stipulate that “Violation of this policy may subject the employee to dismissal.”
In the case of employees, neither dismissal nor contacting the police is mandatory.
Withrow was just a few days short of graduating. He planned to attend either Campbell University or East Carolina University, but a felony charge may disrupt those plans.
On Thursday afternoon, district officials released a statement saying that Withrow may be allowed to graduate by completing a course at an alternative school. He also received good news from Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., who offered him a full scholarship to attend classes at Liberty in the fall.
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