Princeton, N.C. — A Princeton High School senior and honors student who says he inadvertently brought two unloaded shotguns onto school property will be allowed to graduate, an attorney for Johnston County Schools said Thursday.
David Cole Withrow, 18, was arrested Monday on a felony charge of bringing a weapon onto educational property, after he realized he left the guns in his car after skeet shooting over the weekend.
Kim Boykin, a family friend speaking on behalf of Withrow's family, said he tried to get permission from school administrators to take home the weapon but instead, was arrested and expelled.
But Jimmy Lawrence, an attorney for the Johnston County Schools Board of Education, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that Withrow has not been expelled and that the school system superintendent "has made provisions" that will allow him to continue his education and to receive his high school diploma if he meets graduation requirements.
A spokeswoman for Johnston County Schools said she could not speak specifically about disciplinary measures against Withrow but said that, generally, students bringing weapons to school are suspended for 10 days with a recommendation to be suspended for a full calendar year – the mandate according to state law.
"The Legislature has mandated what actions law enforcement, school principals and school superintendents must do upon finding a violation of this law," Lawrence said. "It was enacted for the purpose of 'deterring students and others from bringing any type of guns onto school grounds because of the increased necessity for safety in our schools.' This has never been more true, based on recent events that have occurred at schools in the United States in the last few years."
Frank Wood, an attorney for Withrow's family, said Withrow was initially suspended but that it's unclear for how long since the length of time is not on the suspension sheet.
Johnston County Superintendent Ed Croom reviewed the case, Wood said, and agreed to forgo the recommended 365-day suspension and to allow Withrow to finish out his high school career, beginning May 13, at an alternative school.
Boykin said Withrow's family is still not satisfied since he will not be allowed to walk with his graduating class.
"He's an Eagle Scout, a guy who made a mistake, and he doesn't deserve to have his diploma not have Princeton High School on it," Boykin said. "He doesn't deserve to not walk across the stage with his friends that he's known since pre-school."
Fellow students have started a "Free Cole" campaign, including bumper stickers, T-shirts and social media to let Withrow's story be known.
They have said that it's unfair that he wasn't allowed the same concessions as an assistant principal who made the same mistake in 2011 when she unwittingly brought a gun to school and was suspended for three days without pay but didn't face criminal charges.
The news quickly spread on the Internet, causing an outpouring of support from across the world.
"It's overwhelming, it really is," Boykin said. "In this horrible situation that (the Withrow family) is in the middle of, this is the one thing that they have that they can hang onto – that there's so many people coming out to stand up for their kid and realize he's a good person who made a mistake."
Withrow's even received scholarship offers from Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
"We think he is a victim of a system that is a little bit, maybe, too overly sensitive to certain things," Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said. "There has to be room for honest mistakes, and right now, I don't think the law does that."
As far as the criminal charge against Withrow, he is scheduled to go to court May 16.
"We don't believe there is any evidence that he knowingly and willingly brought a gun to campus," Wood said. "I feel confident that we can get a good result (in court)."