A Johnston County teen apologized Thursday for misleading investigators about a pair of shotguns found in his truck at Princeton High School, admitting he knew the weapons were in his vehicle.
David Cole Withrow, 18, was charged in early May with bringing a weapon onto school property, a felony that carried up to 13 months in jail. He pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor weapons charge and issued a statement shortly afterward.
“I did in fact know that the two shotguns were in my truck on school property,” he said. “I did not mean to hurt anyone by my actions. I regret not moving the weapons from my truck.”
Withrow’s arrest and the claims by supporters that he was being treated unfairly were widely reported in the media, both locally and nationwide.
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The guns were unloaded and locked in the truck. Withrow originally explained that he had gone skeet shooting over the weekend and did not realize the guns were in his vehicle. In a statement Thursday, Withrow said that story was false.
Withrow apologized to Princeton High Principal Kirk Denning, Johnston County Schools Superintendent Ed Croom, Sheriff Steve Bizzell, Deputy Adam Davis, District Attorney Susan Doyle and the Board of Education. He said he realized that confidentiality laws prevented officials from publicly responding to his statements despite evidence that proved them untrue.
He thanked Croom for a modified suspension that will allow him to graduate and receive a diploma.
Students rallied to support Withrow after those early reports that he had been expelled. Many of them pointed to the school system’s handling of a similar incident two years ago.
School Board Chairman Larry Strickland noted that news media repeatedly released false information, leading to a hurtful response from the public. Board members received “ugly emails” when they had nothing to do with the investigation and were trying to keep themselves impartial in case they had to serve on an appeals panel.
“Messages were posted threatening school officials,” he wrote in a statement. “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.”
Following his suspension, Withrow received a scholarship offer from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and from Harding University in Searcy, Ark.
Liberty University officials released a statement in support of Withrow on Thursday, saying that they had also received a copy of his letter admitting false statements.
“Liberty University is pleased that the charges against Cole Withrow were reduced to a misdemeanor, but we still believe this is more punishment than he deserves,” said spokesman Johnnie Moore.