|Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Cole Withrow at Commencement on May 11.|
UPDATE - 5/17/13:
In late-breaking developments, the felony charges against Withrow were dropped in exchange for Withrow pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and accepting the prosecutor’s position that he knew the shotguns were in his truck when he went to school. Falwell said this came as no surprise to Liberty.
“In a radio interview a couple of weeks ago, I was asked if Liberty would still assist Cole if he was convicted of the felony. I said yes. We knew that Cole might be convicted of a felony. We also knew that he might have to publicly take the blame, whether he was at fault or not, in order to have the charges reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. That’s how the criminal justice system works, especially in high-profile cases like this one, and I believe that is exactly what happened here,” Falwell said. “I personally believe that Cole was forced to admit to more than he really knew.
"In any event, 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 deserved."
|Cole Withrow with his sister Hannah Walker. Walker is a 2012 graduate of Liberty University and now works for Liberty University Online.|
Liberty University has received national media attention after Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. expressed his support for, and promised a scholarship to, Cole Withrow, a North Carolina high school senior who was arrested Monday for accidentally leaving a shotgun in his pickup truck in the school parking lot.
This bold stance by the university has garnered a strong show of support from all across the country. Emails and messages have been flooding in to members of administration from people pleased to see Liberty standing up for Withrow. Some have even expressed interest in financially giving to the university to create or support scholarship funds for students like Withrow.
Falwell was travelling in North Carolina when he saw Withrow’s story on a local news broadcast. He noticed Withrow was wearing a Liberty T-shirt and immediately reached out to him. Falwell learned that Withrow was interested in attending Liberty but could not afford it. Falwell told him he would do whatever it takes to ensure he can attend Liberty.
Falwell later learned Withrow’s sister, Hannah Walker, is a 2012 graduate of Liberty and currently works for Liberty University Online Student Accounts.
Walker said her brother is “a very caring person” who works hard and “follows through with his commitments.” He is an honors student and an Eagle Scout, and Walker said he is very close to his classmates. Withrow is an avid outdoorsman and has been hunting since he was young.
“The worst part about (the arrest) is he was trying to do the right thing,” Walker said.
As soon as Withrow realized the gun was still in his truck (he had just taken it on a hunting trip over the weekend), he immediately called his mother from the school’s office, Walker said.
Reports indicate that a school official overheard Withrow’s phone call and notified police, who arrested him before his mother arrived.
Now facing a felony charge on his record, Withrow feared he would lose his scholarships and be unable to attend college. “It weighed really hard on him,” Walker said.
She said when Falwell reached out to her brother, and then to herself, it was a great encouragement and an answer to prayer.
“Just the fact that he recognized it meant a lot to my family. But for him to reach out the way that he did and call Cole … we were so overwhelmed, both of my parents were emotional and excited. It was very much of a weight lifted off,” she said.
She added that Withrow always wanted to go to Liberty — he loved coming to campus events with her — but knew it would likely not be possible because of finances.
For Falwell to contact Withrow and to pledge support for him to attend Liberty, Walker said is “unbelievable.”
“It is definitely a blessing. We are honored that he reached out to us. I know that Cole is really excited. The opportunity that Liberty has is something that separates Liberty from other schools. I have grown so much as a person, so much spiritually being here and I could want nothing more for my brother — to see God work in his life. I am not the same person I was four years ago. I cannot wait to see how Cole grows and transforms as a person in his experience here, too.”