A USC Upstate student was charged with illegally carrying a gun while his fraternity conducted a ritual in Oakwood Cemetery Sunday night. College officials say the charge and the ritual are violations of their policies.
According to a Spartanburg Police Department incident report, Caleb Nathaniel Cooke, 21, of 210 Edwards Road, Lyman, was charged with unlawful carrying of a pistol.
The report states that Converse College public safety received information about 8:45 p.m. Sunday that there would be young men from a fraternity at the cemetery to perform a ritual, and that one of the fraternity members had a gun on his hip.
Police arrived to find about 20 men at the cemetery. The president of the fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said the men had come to the cemetery for the ritual in which they “bond and talk,” the report states. He told officers that one of the members was carrying a pistol on his hip.
When located by police, Cooke was cooperative. He said he did not have a concealed weapons permit, but thought he could carry a gun because he is 21, the report states.
Officers confiscated the Glock 9 mm pistol, which Cooke was wearing in a holster. The gun had a bullet in the chamber and a loaded magazine, according to police. Cooke told officers that it was his father’s gun, and he brought it to protect his fraternity brothers while they were in the cemetery.
Cooke was released from the Spartanburg County jail early Monday.
USC Upstate spokeswoman Tammy Whaley said the gun possession, a “violation of local, state and federal laws,” is also a violation of the USC Upstate Code of Behavior.
“Conducting any fraternity-sponsored activities during the last two weeks of a semester violates university policy,” Whaley said in an email Monday. “USC Upstate officials will meet with the student and the fraternity in light of these violations.”
The university has also notified national Sigma Alpha Epsilon headquarters of the incident, Whaley said.
University officials have not received information that Cooke ever had the gun on campus. Students, faculty and staff with concealed weapon permits may have guns on campus, Whaley said, but the weapon must remain out of sight in the console, glovebox or trunk of their vehicles.
Spartanburg Police Capt. Art Littlejohn said there are signs at the cemetery prohibiting trespassing after dark. He said the fraternity group was not causing problems, and complied with officers’ requests to leave the area.
“Everyone was polite and respectful,” Littlejohn said. “No trespassing citations were issued. In 10 minutes, the entire incident was over.”
Oakwood Cemetery, which contains many historic graves, has been the target of vandals many times over the years. In March 2012, police found that a grave had been opened and that a skull from the casket inside was stolen. No arrests have been made in the case.
“There has always been a draw (for suspicious activity) there for some reason,” Littlejohn said. “We keep a close check on it and patrol frequently, and Converse College does, too.”