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Attention after gun charge garners scholarship offers for teen

Posted May 2, 2013
Updated May 3, 2013

— 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."

Cole Withrow Princeton teen gets scholarship offers after gun controversy

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.

#freecole Teen can still graduate after bringing gun to school

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)."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • edbuck51 May 3, 2013

    I hope they show the same to the little girl in florida who was suspended and charged with a felony for a science project that blow the top off of a soda bottle in the lab during school hours

  • Plenty Coups May 3, 2013

    DemonDeacon-"N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-269.2 "It shall be a Class I felony for any person [KNOWINGLY] to possess or carry, whether openly or concealed, any gun, rifle, pistol, or other firearm of any kind on educational property.""

    There is a separate law that applies only to students which is the one that applies here:

    NC Statute 115C-390.10:
    All local boards of education shall develop and implement ...requiring suspension for 365 calendar days of any student who is determined to have brought or been in possession of a firearm or destructive device on educational property, or to a school‑sponsored event off of educational property. A principal shall recommend to the superintendent the 365‑day suspension of any student believed to have violated board policies regarding weapons.

    The principal must report all incidents of firearms or destructive devices on
    educational property or at a school-sponsored event as required by G.S. 115C-288(g) and State
    Board of Education policy"

  • thatpeteguy May 3, 2013

    "...Liberty "university" is a joke...." thatpeteguy

    "Wrong about this." Native NC Gal

    Then the joke's on you.

  • rroadrunner99 May 3, 2013

    They let the assistant principal off with a 2 day paid vacation,with NO Criminal Charges brought against her and want to ruin this boy's life. Does that seem like the right thing to do?I wouldn't accept anything less than graduating with my regular high school class.Did they make the assistant principal go to the alternative school?

  • DemonDeacon1214 May 3, 2013

    N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-269.2 "It shall be a Class I felony for any person [KNOWINGLY] to possess or carry, whether openly or concealed, any gun, rifle, pistol, or other firearm of any kind on educational property."

    School policy may be written differently so whatever penalty the school imposes may stand but the criminal charge is going to be tough to prove. I wouldn't want any part of prosecuting this case. Same is true with the assistant principal, establishing knowledge as an element of the crime is tough. Her conduct was certainly negligent (more so than this kid) but probably not criminal.

  • kendradad May 3, 2013

    downtowner says: Liberty is the fundamentalist Christian take on college. I find it curious that fundamentalist Christians are jumping to rescue this kid for political points with the gun lobby. That's a shame.

    Unlike the president using kids/parents of Sandy Hook as a backdrop to gin up hysteria against the constitutional rights of law abiding American citizens to keep and bear arms? Now THAT is shameful.

  • issymayake May 3, 2013

    Ol NC Native says: Liberty is a SACS regionally accredited university. kendradad Regionally. Key word there.

    Please tell us how that differs from the accreditation that NCSU, UNC, Wake Forest receives. They are EXACTLY the same, no difference. Do you know what SACS stands for? Let me help you:

    The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is the regional body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the Southern states. It serves as the common denominator of shared values and practices among the diverse institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia.

    Would you expect them to be regionally accredited from the Western regional district? Facts are important my friend.

    Is that the same SACS that is the accrediting body for NCCU, NC A&T, UNC-P, and Shaw?


  • issymayake May 3, 2013

    1) It was stupid for the school to discipline this kid at all after he told the truth.

    2) What kind of pathetic school gives a scholarship to a kid based on this in an effort to inject themselves in to a story they have nothing to with. It isn't about you, Liberty. It's about a kid who was wronged and ultimately the wrong was corrected.

    Don't forget about Harding University out of Arkansas. They offered him a scholarship too. lol

  • cdhrtp May 3, 2013

    I am amazed at how many seem to think this is no big deal, just a mistake and he should graduate with his class as if nothing happened.

    "It was a mistake" - - yes, a very SERIOUS mistake and there are consequences. If you make a mistake and pull out in front of someone, you are still responsible for the damage.

    "He forgot" - If you forget to pay your taxes/bills/etc, you still can get in trouble and have to pay the penalty.

    "He did the right thing and is being punished" - He didn't secure his gun after using it. He took the gun on school property. AND there are conflicting stories as to if he "did the right thing" and told school officials, or if he was simply overheard calling him mom to come get the gun.

  • Civil4Mind May 3, 2013

    Plenty Cups- Well isn't that nice a negligent Assistant Principal get away with a slap on the wrist...