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.
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 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.