The former UNC student who was charged with trying to bomb the Davie Poplar tree in November 2017 was found not guilty on Feb. 13 by reason of insanity.
Joshua Edwards, 25, faced six felony charges for leaving a backpack containing an explosive device at the base of the tree. The backpack, and the guitar Edwards placed next to it, proceeded to catch fire, explode and injure a professor.
According to The News & Observer, Edwards’ attorney, Natasha Adams, used forensic evaluation to show Edwards was suffering from psychosis and was therefore “incapable of distinguishing right and wrong.”
UNC physics and astronomy professor Daniel Reichart, who tried to put out the fire the device had started at the tree, was injured when the device exploded, but said he considers himself fortunate.
“I suffered burns to over 10 percent of my body, but thanks to the quick actions of students who were there, emergency medical technicians, the doctors and nurses of UNC's burn center and Chancellor Folt — who called me within minutes of my arrival at the emergency room and personally made arrangements for my care — I am now back to normal,” Reichart said in a statement to the DTH.
Sophomore Farah Heikal, who witnessed the planting of the backpack and the ensuing explosion, said she believes mental health problems are often at the root of situations like these.
“The bottom line is, we should always pay attention to mental health risks, and in this case, it might have been something that could have been prevented,” Heikal said.
However, Heikal said although Edwards was found mentally unstable by the courts, more should be done, especially considering the magnitude of the event and possibility of greater injury.
“If they really looked into it and found that it was due to psychosis, then I feel like, you know, people should understand that,” Heikal said. “But at the same time, I remember the professor vividly — the one that was hurt really badly by the bomb going off — and I just remember seeing all the people running away, just really fearful for their lives, and I feel like he should have to have a consequence. Something needs to happen to calm that experience for other people.”
Heikal said she isn’t completely sure about what could be done to have Edwards take responsibility in a mental health-related case like this, but she thinks that at least an apology to Reichart is due.
Despite the physical toll Edwards’ actions took on Reichart, he said he hopes Edwards receives the support he needs, as Reichart has seen many students struggling with mental illness during his time as a UNC professor.
“For all of them, it has been, and likely will always be, a lifelong struggle, with both better times, and worse,” Reichart said. “It is my opinion that Mr. Edwards was having one of these ‘worse’ times, and for this my heart goes out to him, and to his family.”
Edwards, who the prosecution and defense determined to have schizoaffective disorder, is to be committed to Central Regional Hospital in Butner, North Carolina, the News & Observer reported.
“I ask that no one at UNC be disappointed in this ruling, or harbor any ill will against Mr. Edwards,” Reichart said. “Often life is not black and white, and especially in such times, compassion goes further than judgement."
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