'Stupid mistake;' School's zero-tolerance policy on guns enforced

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Frank DeLoache and Holly Lee

Salisbury Post

CLEVELAND — A West Rowan High School student charged with bringing two guns to campus has been suspended for 10 days and could be expelled for a year, school and law enforcement officials said Friday.

But Tweena Moore said her son, Austin Tyler Moore, just made a “really stupid mistake” when he didn’t take the guns out of his car after target practice earlier in the week.

“I just want people to know that there was no ammunition in the car, no ammunition in the guns,” his mom said.

“He’s a truly wonderful kid. He’s not just a good kid. He’s a good Christian kid. His father and I have never had any problems with him. We haven’t had any problems with him at school. He’s very shy and reserved. … He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”

Tweena Moore said she and her husband, Greg, have received many calls from people in the community, saying “how crazy this is to happen to Austin.”

Under the Rowan-Salisbury School System code of conduct, any offense involving a firearm carries a 365-day suspension.

Though school officials have not served Austin Moore with a year-long suspension, an assistant principal told his parents to expect the 365-day penalty, Tweena Moore said.

The Moores can appeal to Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom to stop or modify the year-long punishment, but Tweena Moore said they had not decided what to do. She and her husband also are considering enrolling their son in a private school.

Dr. Alan King, assistant superintendent for administration, said Grissom could recommend a modified punishment, subject to approval from the Board of Education.

“As far as firearms in our schools, there’s a zero-tolerance policy towards that. We have to put the safety of our children first,” King said.

School administrators don’t get into deciding whether a student’s intent is malicious. “We treat them all about the same,” he said.

Austin Moore, 17, is a junior at West Rowan High.

According to Rowan County Sheriff’s Capt. John Sifford, School Resource Officer Brian Rucker noticed Moore in the parking lot during the school day and spoke to the teenager.

Moore said he had to put something in his car and then headed back to the school building.

The resource officer thought the student was acting nervous, Sifford said, and called on his radio to an assistant principal to bring the teen back to the car.

When they asked permission to search the car, Austin Moore “was forthcoming” that he had two guns inside, Sifford said. Moore and his mother said he had been target shooting with his girlfriend’s father and forgot to take them out before going to school.

Rucker found the rifle covered with clothing in the rear seat and the shotgun in the locked trunk. Sifford confirmed that the guns were unloaded and there was no ammunition in the car.

Tweena Moore said her son knew that he was acting nervous once he realized he’d left the guns in the car.

“We knew he had been target practicing,” Tweena Moore said Friday. “We are a hunting family. We have guns in our house.”

The teen’s mom says she can understand the school system’s no-tolerance rule about weapons of any sort on campus.

“I understand why they had to suspend him for the 10 days,” she said Friday, “but I don’t agree with the 365-day suspension.”

People in the community already are offering letters of reference about Austin to take to school officials, she said. Many have also offered to accompany the family to any appeals hearing to speak on Austin’s behalf.

Austin is a member of the youth group at Cleveland Baptist Church, his mother said.


Contact Frank DeLoache at 704-797-4245 or fdeloache@salisburypost.com. Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or hlee@salisburypost.com.