“I was hurt, I was upset, I was angry," Navy veteran Nikki Culpepper said when she saw the photo of the defaced flag.
Culpepper told Jennings that she served her country as an aircraft electrician and comes from a military family.
“It appeared to the community that it was an attack on the flag and after speaking with these children, I realized it wasn’t, it was just youthful ignorance,” Culpepper said.
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It was a senior prank that residents in the small town of Franklin say crossed the line.
"They were just like, 'We didn't mean anything by it. We weren't trying to be disrespectful,'" Heard County High School Principal Brent Tisdale told Jennings.
A picture of the spray-painted flag sparked outrage in the community when it quickly spread on social media.
“We really did want to make it a learning opportunity for these guys,” Tisdale said.
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In addition to suspending the students, Tisdale immediately rounded up a couple of local veterans, Culpepper included, to come in and explain to the kids why their actions were offensive and hurtful to so many in the community.
“We explained to them what it’s like to lose loved ones. My grandfather served 32 years and is buried at Arlington and (we explained what it was like) to see our friends and loved ones come home underneath that flag and how it made us feel as veterans,” Culpepper said.
“We’ve already talked to (the) VFW here locally. We’ve got the flag, so we’re going to include those guys in a retirement ceremony for the flag and make sure it’s done correctly and make sure they understand the gravity of what the American flag means,” Tisdale told Jennings.
The principal said the students told him they originally found the flag on the side of a road.