Orange County

Suspect in UNC Davie Poplar fire, explosion has 1st day in an Orange County courtroom

Fire and explosion at UNC’s Davie Poplar

A video shot by UNC student Dawn Goodfriend shows shows a bystander trying to put out a fire at the base of the Davie Poplar on the UNC campus and then an explosion.
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A video shot by UNC student Dawn Goodfriend shows shows a bystander trying to put out a fire at the base of the Davie Poplar on the UNC campus and then an explosion.

A former UNC-Chapel Hill student charged in a Nov. 2 fire and explosion on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus made his first appearance in an Orange County courtroom Thursday afternoon.

Joshua Daniel Edwards, 24, of 903 Park Ridge Drive, Apt. A3, in Durham, was assigned a public defender. He is charged with six felony counts of malicious use of explosives to inflict injury, malicious use of explosives to damage property, assembling a weapon of mass destruction, setting fire to grass or grassland, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, and filing a false police report, Young said.

He was taken to the Orange County jail where he was being held under $200,000 bail. His next hearing is set for Wednesday, Nov. 22, Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman said.

Joshua Edwards1
Joshua Edwards

Nieman told the court that several witnesses saw Edwards set fire to a backpack and a guitar beside the university’s landmark Davie Poplar and walk away. UNC Professor Dan Reichart saw the small fire and walked up to kick dirt on it in an attempt to put it out, he said. That’s when a camping fuel canister inside the backpack exploded causing “fairly substantial” first- and second-degree burns to Reichart’s arms and face, he said.

The fire scorched the Davie Poplar, but the university’s arborist has said it will survive.

UNC Public Safety apprehended Edwards at the scene, Nieman said. Edwards told at least one investigator that he had another device in his car in Carrboro. Edwards said the device was a gasoline canister with a wick in it, according to an arrest warrant.

UNC professor Dan Reichart tries to extinguish a fire allegedly set by a man who was later arrested when a device explodes at the base of the Davie Poplar on the UNC campus Thursday afternoon, Nov. 2, 2017. Reichart is being treated for burns, an

UNC police alerted the Carrboro Police Department, who evacuated and cordoned off most of the downtown area until later that night.

Nieman said Edwards, who was taken to UNC Hospitals for a mental evaluation and remained there until his hearing Thursday, wrote a letter to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt claiming responsibility for the fire. He has been ordered, if released on bail, not to go on campus except for medical treatment, Neiman said.

“I’m not denying that his mental health issues may be a issue in this case, however, I don’t believe there will be a material issue of fact that he committed this offense,” Nieman told the court.

James Hunt recorded this video as he approached a fire burning at the base of the Davie Poplar on the campus of UNC Thursday afternoon. Shortly after an explosion from erupted from the fire, the voice of a man shouting "Hail Satan' can be heard.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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