Liberty backs Princeton High student who admits he lied - WSPA.com

Liberty backs Princeton High student who admits he lied

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PRINCETON, N.C. -

A Princeton High School student has admitted he was "not truthful" about his possession of two shotguns on the school campus April 29, according to a statement released Thursday afternoon.

In the statement, Cole Withrow said he gave misleading statements to Principal Kirk Denning and Johnston County Sheriff's Officer Adam Davis.

"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 removing the weapons from my truck.

"I believe it is necessary for me to issue this statement to correct the misinformation that has been reported by the media.  I understand this inaccurate information resulted in many agencies and individuals suffering significant harm.  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."

Withrow's stunning announcement came after his situation had been a major issue at the Johnston County school. Students there painted signs that said "Free Cole" and urging the school system to let him graduate with his class after what appeared to be an honest mistake.

He is now scheduled to finish at South Campus Community School in Smithfield, and if he completes requirements there can graduate from that school on June 7.

Withrow was arrested April on a felony charge of bringing a weapon onto school grounds after he left the guns in his car at Princeton High. He later pled guilty to misdemeanor possession of weapons.

According to an earlier WNCN report, Cole had gone to the principal's office to explain his mistake and was taken into custody.

But according to what was presented in court Thursday, Cole did not report the fact that he had guns in his truck to a school official. Instead, he called his mother to ask to be checked out and then returned to class.

"He called his mom to ask to be checked out because the guns were in his truck and then went back to class without ever reporting to anyone," Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle told WNCN Thursday. "This conversation was overheard by a receptionist as well as a student.  This created a perceived security threat as students began to spread the information that he had guns on school campus.  He was later pulled out of class by the principal after failing to report this information to anyone and asked about it.

"That was one of the significant things about this case in that he did not try to do the right thing by reporting to an administrator.  In addition to where the gun was positioned in the truck (which made it impossible not to immediately know it was in there) there was also video evidence pulled from the school cameras that showed he gave false statements."

The issue became statewide and regional news, with Liberty University chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. offering Withrow a scholarship after he learned of Withrow's plight. Withrow's sister is a Liberty graduate and Falwell saw Withrow wearing a Liberty T-shirt and reached out to him.

Liberty spokesman Johnnie Moore said in a statement, "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."

Asked specifically about a scholarship, Moore said, "Liberty has not revoked its support of Cole Withrow."

Withrow, in his lengthy statement, issued multiple apologies for his actions.

"I would like to apologize to Princeton High School Principal Kirk Denning, Johnston County Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Croom and the Johnston County Board of Education.  I recognize now that due to confidentiality laws, these individuals could not publicly respond to the inaccurate information despite the fact that they had evidence that proved my statements wrong.

"I am grateful that Dr. Croom modified the mandatory suspension to allow me to continue my studies, graduate and receive a diploma from the Johnston County School system.  I will not pursue any appeal to the Johnston County Board of Education."

"I would also like to apologize to the law enforcement, including Deputy Adam Davis, Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell and Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle for any stress or negative comments that have been posted because of the inaccurate information received.  I understand these individuals were just doing the jobs they are there to do."

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