Editor’s note: See update below regarding Withrow’s initially reported expulsion.
David “Cole” Withrow was a senior ready to graduate with honors from Princeton High School in Johnston, N.C. He is an Eagle Scout, did his senior class project on gun safety and was even looking forward to college in the fall.
This is why when he realized he forgot his shotgun in the back of his truck after going skeet shooting over the weekend, he debated between driving back home and being counted as tardy and calling his mom from school to collect the gun.
Deciding to call his mother from the school’s front office to come get the gun, the 18-year-old’s conversation was overheard, according to Todd Starnes.
“He was overheard in a private conversation with his mother explaining what happened,” Kimberly Boykin, a friend of the Withrow family told Starnes. “He could have told a story, but he told the truth.”
“I think it’s an injustice for this young man,” she said. “He’s a good guy. He’s loved by his classmates and his teachers. You don’t become an Eagle Scout by being a bad seed.”
As punishment, Withrow was reported to have been expelled for a year and would not be able to graduate with his class, which could have potentially off-set his plans for college. An attorney for the school has since said Withrow was not expelled and special provisions have been made for him to finish school in order to receive his diploma (see the update to this story below).
He was also charged with a felony.
WTVD reported that Withrow had been admitted to Campbell University and East Carolina University and had been awarded a scholarship, but it is currently unclear if his felony charge would impact his attendance in the fall.
The community is outraged not only because Withrow tried to do the right thing and is being severely punished, but also because school administrators within the district have been caught in similar situations in the past and received less severe retribution.
WTVD reported that two school officials had brought guns onto school property in the past. One, a teacher at another high school within the district, was cited and resigned. The other is actually the assistant principal at Princeton High School where Cole spent the last four years. That person was suspended for three days and still works at the school. Neither case saw criminal charges like those Cole faces.
“I think it’s wrong, if an assistant principal can bring a loaded handgun and doesn’t get punished? No, unacceptable,” parent Nancy Terry told WTVD.
According to the station, the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it’s only a misdemeanor charge if an administrator brings a gun on school property, but for students it’s an automatic felony.
WRAL has a statement from the school:
Johnston County schools spokeswoman Tracey Peedin Jones said the school system has to follow state law regarding weapons on campus.
“Please know that with student and personnel issues, we carefully balance all factors to arrive at a fair and just outcome,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Certain items are mandated and we have no choice but to follow the law.”
Watch WTVD’s report:
Students from Princeton High School have rallied around their classmate, petitioning the school board to at least let Withrow graduate.
“Everyone makes a mistake, he tried to do the right thing by it and it’s upsetting,” student Tyler Pope told WTVD.
Update: WRAL reported Jimmy Lawrence, the attorney for the Johnston County Schools Board of Education, saying Winthrow was not expelled, but that “provisions” have been made for him to continue education through the end of the year in order to receive his diploma.
WTVD elaborated that Winthrow will have the opportunity to attend an alternative school. It also noted Lawrence saying that according to North Carolina law and the Federal Gun Free Schools Act, Withrow’s violation would merit a 365-day suspension, but this wasn’t brought up by the Johnston County School Board.