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Teen who brought guns to school admits he lied, pleads guilty

Posted May 16, 2013
Updated May 17, 2013

— A Johnston County teen who was arrested and suspended after bringing two unloaded shotguns to school said Thursday that he lied to the principal about forgetting the guns were in his vehicle.

Cole Withrow, 18, released a statement to the media shortly after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor weapons charge. He received a 45-day suspended sentence from Johnston County Judge Andy Corbett.

In his statement, Withrow publicly apologized to school administrators, law enforcement personnel and District Attorney Susan Doyle.

"I was not truthful...I did in fact know that the two shotguns were in my truck on school property. I did not mean to hurt anyone by my actions," he said in the statement.

Johnston teen pleads guilty to bringing guns to school Johnston teen pleads guilty to bringing guns to school

Withrow was facing a felony charge of bringing a weapon onto school grounds April 29. He entered the misdemeanor guilty plea during a probable cause hearing Thursday.

"I hope you learn a valuable lesson from this," Corbett said. "Be careful in the future."

In a case that garnered national media attention and sparked a social media campaign to #FreeCole, the teen first said he accidentally left the shotguns in his truck after a weekend of skeet shooting and did not mean to bring them to Princeton High School, where he was a senior. Withrow said he tried to get permission from administrators to take them home but instead was arrested and suspended.

But Principal Kirk Denning and sheriff's Deputy Adam Davis, who arrested Withrow, presented a different picture of what happened. In court, Doyle read statements from the men, who said the teen lied when he told staffers that he only realized the guns were in his truck after he went to the vehicle to retrieve a bookbag and a drink.

Doyle said security video from the school shows Withrow never went to his truck. He purchased a drink from a concession area and was talking to other students at the time he claimed to be in the parking lot.

Davis said it would have been impossible for Withrow not to know the guns were in the vehicle. He said the end of the barrel of one of the guns was near the gas pedal.

According to Davis, Withrow was texting and laughing as he taken to jail, saying "Ha, ha, my friends are going to start a petition about why I'm being charged with this."

Doyle said the situation was "frustrating" for school officials, who could not talk publicly about the case because of confidentiality laws.

Johnston County Board of Education Chairman Larry Strickland said officials were deluged with negative emails.

"Messages were posted threatening school officials, messages were posted that were intimidating and slanderous, and messages were posted completely misstating and not knowing the facts of the case as people jumped to conclusions about the matter. The ...emails and calls received by the Board of Education were uncalled for and extremely hurtful." Strickland said in statement.

He praised board members and school staff for following policy, which prohibits the disclosure of information, even at risk to their own reputations.

"In the future, we would ask that the media and the public not jump to conclusions in student discipline and or criminal matters, especially when all the facts are not known to them."

In his statement, Withrow said he wanted to correct the misinformation reported to the media.

"I understand this inaccurate information resulted in many agencies and individuals suffering significant harm," he said. "I should have stopped the inaccuracies, and I did not. As a result, I think it is imperative that I now take responsibility for my own actions."

Earlier this week, a school hearing officer upheld Superintendent Ed Croom’s recommendation that the teen receive a long-term suspension. The recommendation is not an expulsion, and Withrow will finish his education at an alternative school.


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  • THECROWFLIES May 23, 2013

    People keep saying he is so very smart and such a good kid, Eagle Scout and all. Wow, how not so smart is it to bring two guns to school and then go tell on yourself? This kid is just the opposite of smart! He is indeed lucky to get off with a Misdemeanor conviction and he can still graduate this year. Plus with a misdemeanor conviction he can still own guns. With a felony conviction he couldn't own guns. Lucky, very, very lucky! I hope he learns from this.

  • reesesbrewcrew May 17, 2013

    WOW whats the truth on all this HPLACEFARM comments about him seselling drugs???? got to more to all this that media both profession reporting and socail media have wrong!!

  • ripetomatoes May 17, 2013

    I'm still confused. Why did he bring them to school in the first place? Did he do it on purpose or did he actually accidentally leave them in the car? mystica131

    Doesn't matter.

    Committed a felony.

    Got off lucky.

  • rroadrunner99 May 17, 2013

    This still does not explain why the school administration official wasn't charged when she had a gun in her car. If an excuse could get her off then why couldn't it get someone else off?

  • Jack Flash May 17, 2013

    "Willful and deliberate stumbling? Interesting."

    Mind is willing but the flesh is weak. Why would it be considered a sin if it was an accident in the first place? Intent matters, and Christians believe they are forgiven for sins.

    "Yes I do."

    Well, I guess we're done here.

  • mystica131 May 17, 2013

    I'm still confused. Why did he bring them to school in the first place? Did he do it on purpose or did he actually accidentally leave them in the car?

  • Lightfoot3 May 17, 2013

    "There's a difference ... between walking the walk and never being allowed to stumble" - jackflash123

    Willful and deliberate stumbling? Interesting. :)

    "you don't get to decide whether someone is Christian or not" - jackflash123

    Yes I do. If someone claims to be a State fan, but always wears blue and cheers for Carolina, I'll say they aren't a State fan. If someone claims to be a Christian, but doesn't live a Christian lifestyle, I'll say they aren't a Christian. It ain't that hard to tell the difference.

  • Jack Flash May 17, 2013

    There's a difference, Lightfoot, between walking the walk and never being allowed to stumble.

    You can decide which Christians you will and won't respect, but you don't get to decide whether someone is Christian or not.

  • Lightfoot3 May 17, 2013

    "Who gets to judge" - jackflash123

    Lest ye be judged! I'm just fine with people judging me with the same yardstick I use for them!

    "Christians AREN'T better" - jackflash123

    So what's the point? If they lie, cheat, steal, etc., it's all the same in the end.

    "hold them to a higher standard anyway" - jackflash123

    If people claim to be Christian, yet don't walk the walk, they aren't TRUE Christians. If you claim it, then live it!

    For the record, I was born and raised Christian, in a church founded/pastored by family. I'm now an atheist.

  • Mom2two May 17, 2013

    davidk_at-unc: thank you for saying that about Eagle Scouts. I know several Eagle Scouts, some who are very deserving of that type of honor and several who are not. Because I did not know any Eagle Scouts (that I knew of) before about 10 years ago, I didn't really know what was involved, and I took it to be something extremely distinguished, but, sadly, it is often like any other "checkmark" on a to-do list for some. I suppose it is that way with most things and young people.