‘#FreeShep’: Students protest suspension of student for leaving hunting shotgun in his truck

Published 1:35 pm Thursday, April 23, 2015

CARTHAGE, Mo. — More than 100 Carthage High School students and others protested at the school Thursday morning in support of Sawyer Shepherd, a senior who has been suspended for violating the district’s policy against firearms and weapons on school property.

Shepherd reportedly has been suspended for 10 days after he acknowledged that he had left a shotgun under the seat in his locked truck when he arrived on the high school campus, after going turkey hunting before school on Tuesday morning. Shepherd’s family members are claiming the gun was unloaded, disassembled, and put in its case.

School superintendent Blaine Henningsen said federal law prohibits the district from naming Shepard specifically. He said that a disciplinary process has begun, and that such a process includes an investigation, meeting with family and a review by committee. 

“No determination has been made at this time,” Hennigsen said. “We’re making sure we have the facts and every bit of information we can get. We’ll go through the process with the student and parents, and reach a conclusion.”

Shepard’s mother, Shelly Shepard, said on her Facebook page that the family is not upset with the high school staff or district administration, and appreciates the support the family has received. 

“Of course I wish this had went down differently, but we can’t go back now,” Shelly Shepard said. “(Principal) Matt Huntley is a good friend who has been a part of many of our children’s lives. He is trying his best to follow the law like we would all expect him to. We appreciate everyone’s support, but do not want this to get out of hand.”

Charith E. Parnell, a CHS senior who attended the protest, said: “A lot of them (CHS students) are upset because they’re concerned they won’t be able to walk (in graduation) with someone they have gone to school with their whole lives.”

She said the students also want school officials to reinstate Shepherd on the CHS baseball team. She said some Webb City students also attended, in response to a Twitter campaign mounted in support of the student.

Parnell said she also is upset about what she sees as a “zero-tolerance policy.”

She noted the federal Gun-Free Schools Act provides that school districts are allowed to have policies that would not punish students for having guns used before and after school for hunting activities.

The Carthage policy bars the possession of firearms and weapons on school premises at all times, except for law enforcement officials acting within the scope of their duties.

Henningsen said the protest was held smoothly and without incident. Protesters dispersed in time for classes to begin, he said. 

“Students have the right to express their opinions, and that’s what students did today,” Henningsen said. 

Susan Redden and Joe Hadsall write for the Joplin (Mo.) Globe.