Published On: Thu, May 2nd, 2013

‘Free Cole’ movement going viral in support of Cole Withrow, student arrested for having gun in truck

A Johnston County high school student has been expelled for bringing a gun onto school property, but the school’s student body is coming to his defense.

David “Cole” Withrow is a senior at Princeton High School. He was set to graduate in just a few weeks, until his arrest Monday for bringing a gun to school.

WRAL detailed how Cole, who is an Eagle Scout and an honors student, said he forgot to take his gun out of his truck after skeet shooting. When he got to school and realized the gun was in his car, he went into school to call his mom so he could leave and take the gun home.

School officials overheard the conversation and called the police.

“To have him arrested and expelled from school is excessive,” family friend Kim Boykin said. “He locks his vehicle, goes inside and tries to do the right thing.”

Johnston County schools spokeswoman Tracey Peedin Jones said the school system has to follow state law regarding weapons on campus.

David Cole Winthrow, the student arrested after forgetting he left his gun in his truck after a weekend trip

David Cole Winthrow, the student arrested after forgetting he left his gun in his truck after a weekend trip

“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.”

Boykin said Winthow’s family isn’t upset with school administrators, but believes the law is too strict.

“With no areas for mistakes or human error or gray area in there, that just can’t apply to everything,” she said.

Students have been painting “Free Cole” on their cars and a local printer even designed a “Free Cole for Doing the Right Thing” bumper sticker.

#FreeCole has gone viral across twitter.

“I believe he did the right thing by being truthful and being honest,” said Joseph Canzaniello of Express Signs. “His integrity will be held intact no matter what happens to him.”

An assistant principal at Cole’s school was suspended for three days, but never criminally charged. She still works in the same position at the school.

“I think it’s wrong, if an assistant principal can bring a loaded handgun and doesn’t get punished? No, unacceptable,” parent Nancy Terry said.

A teacher at another high school in the school district was cited and resigned.

The students and parents in the community are outraged that Cole has received such harsh punishment for what he said was an accident.

“I don’t have any problems with the assistant principal, but it’s still not fair. Students and teachers should get treated the same,” one student said.

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About the Author

- Roxanne "Butter" Bracco began with the Dispatch as Pittsburgh Correspondent, but will be providing reports and insights from Washington DC, Maryland and the surrounding region. Contact Roxie aka "Butter" at theglobaldispatch@gmail ATTN: Roxie or Butter Bracco

Displaying 21 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Poojawa says:

    As my former principlal so lovingly pointed out to me when I challenged her on basic human rights You’re a student, you don’t have rights.

    Adults have the right to not be f***ed for life, but students are instantly guilty, and thus must be punished least they inspire other rebels.

    It’s wrong, it’s stupid, but I don’t see any way this’ll ever get changed.

  2. wantedDeadjustDEAD says:

    I had a bowie knife in my backpack for an entire week during middle school and my teacher just got annoyed and told me to remember to dump it out next time I went home. Everybody’s so busy panicking over the minor things that they act completely surprised when their countermeasures prove useless to stop someone with genuinely malicious intentions.

    Edit: I’d gone backpacking and camping over the weekend and forgotten to take it out when I went back to school. Just slipped my mind.

  3. Your Name... says:

    I called June Atkins, Superintendent of Schools, NC State Dept of Education. My voice message asked her to use her influence with DA and prosecutor to have felony charges dropped against Cole Withrow. This is important. Please someone: Post useful links for concerned citizens to respond and influence the specific contacts to help this outstanding young man. I doubt that my message even reached the correct person.

  4. ‘Free Cole’ movement going viral in support of Cole Withrow, student arrested for having gun in truck | Document The Truth says:

    […] ‘Free Cole’ movement going viral in support of Cole Withrow, student arrested for having gun in … […]

  5. Roger Huggett says:

    One of the students at the end of the article said students and teachers should be treated the same. No. The teacher is the paid servant. The student is the served and presumable more naive of the two. Teachers should be dealt with more strictly as they are paid to be there and students have to be there. I guess if students had a union this would have been settled with logic and not apathy to the kid.

  6. Diaz says:

    This individual, and anyone else there, had the absolute right to defend themselves from illegal arrest/detainment, including lethal means.
    Nothing happened.
    That’s the whole problem.

    All y’all bitching about how this isn’t right…and then, not ONE Citizen’s Arrest.
    Thanks for ‘letting’ this happen more and more.
    Appreciate it.

  7. Abbey says:

    The problem here is the authoritarian mentality of someone who gets off bringing the law down on someone trying to do the right thing. The school districts in this country worship the Nazi approach to discipline devoid of common sense and fairness in obedience to their god the state. The idiots who came down on that kid should all be fired and barred from the educational system and go work in a prison as a guards.

  8. Timothy G Reynolds says:

    I hope this goes to a jury trial and the jury should have the good sense to nullify this stupid law with an aquittal. The whole thing could have been avoided if the office staff of this school had anyone with a brain. This has to be one of the worst cases of hairsplitting I have ever seen. This is a perfect example of the complete morons that run the public “screwel” system.

  9. Brawny71 says:

    “Hey, I was honest and upfront about something, and I’m being treated unfairly because of a zero tolerance policy.” Look, I think he should be given the benefit of the doubt, but the irony of a BOY SCOUT complaining of being kicked out for a stupid reason escapes no one!!

  10. ‘Free Cole’ controversy takes over Johnston County town – ‘Free Cole’ Movement Going Viral « Conservative Animal says:

    […] ARTICLE HERE  […]

  11. Anonymous says:

    Johnston County School system superintendent’s email:

    [email protected]

    • JT in the Army says:

      He broke state law. School district followed the law in reporting the matter.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hate to think you are representing our country.

      • Timmy says:

        What state law? The one that says you have to secure your weapon in your car before entering a school.

      • Rob says:

        @ JT In the Army

        There was a teacher who brought his/her gun to the same school. Why did the teacher that only got a 3 day suspension? Why does the boy scout get the felony rap?

      • Frank says:

        I’ll bet when you get orders to murder Americans you vil vollow your ohders you little NAZI!

      • Diaz says:


      • combatTVgirl says:

        Like it or not, technically the kid did break state law by bringing a weapon on an educational campus, and technically school officials followed the law by calling police. That’s about where ‘the right thing’ ends. The fact that an assistant principal had a loaded gun in her car two years ago and was never criminally charged escapes no one. It will not escape the family’s attorney, either. If the lawyers have any sense at all this will get pleaded down as far as possible.

        It’s made worse because the kid was actually trying to do the right thing, but in this case, the ‘smart’ thing probably would have been to turn around and high-tail it home to store the weapon and take his chances with getting in trouble for cutting class.

        • GI Joe says:

          Followed the law??? Maybe YOU should actually read the law. North Carolina General Statutes § 14-269.2 Heres the good part… (b) 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… The key here, is KNOWINGLY. This was something that was not intentional. When he realized the problem, he tried to fix it. How is that a crime?

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