Arrest made in school flag theft

From Press & Staff Reports


Authorities have made an arrest in connection with the theft of the flag from East Webster High School.

The American flag was stolen from the school the night of Jan. 25. Surveillance video provided by the Webster County Sheriff’s Department shows a man walking to the front of the school around 9:20 p.m. The same man was later seen on the video with the flag in hand running back toward his vehicle.

The sheriff’s office issued a press release and the surveillance footage to media seeking help in identifying the individual in the video. Sheriff Tim Mitchell also said a reward of an undetermined amount was going to be offered for the recovery of the flag.

The WCSD located and arrested a suspect in the crime around 10 p.m. Jan. 30, according to another release issued Friday. He was identified as William Austin Rawls.

Rawls, 26, of 220 Crowley Road, Eupora, was charged with grand larceny for the theft of the flag. He is being held on a $15,000 bond at the Calhoun County Jail in Pittsboro, where he was transferred Friday.

“A search warrant of the residence was issued but the flag was not located,” according to the release. “It is not known at this time the reason for the theft, but we are working on it.”

The sheriff’s office said more information was gained Friday that leads it to believe that the flag was taken back to the area of East Webster High School and thrown into the woods.

“It is not clear where or how close to the school it was thrown. Webster County Sheriff’s Department has patrolled the area near the school and searched but did not find it,” the release stated. “We are asking that the residents in the area keep an eye open for it. If anyone does locate it Webster County Sheriff’s Department asks that you do not touch it and to please call them. There could still be further evidence around and on the flag to gather.”

Mitchell said the arrest is a win for the community, adding that the help provided by the community, school staff, students and the media were key in solving the case. He thanked all that were involved in helping.

“Theft happens on a regular basis but the theft of an American flag is very unpatriotic,” Mitchell stated before the arrest. “Webster County is known for its patriotism and has a large number of veterans as its citizens. It strikes a strong blow to the hearts of all such people in the community along with the staff and students at the school.”

He said that East Webster Principal Bill Brand is taking donations to replace the flag, which is valued at more than $600. The 20-by-30-foot flag, which was presented to the school by VFW Post 3806 and Ladies Auxiliary on Oct. 30, helped mark the return of classes at East Webster’s new academic facility in Cumberland. The school had previously been relocated to the former Wood College campus following a 2011 tornado.