Blasts at school in Joppatowne lead to arrest

September 26, 1990|By S. M. Khalid | S. M. Khalid,Harford County Bureau of The Sun

JOPPATOWNE -- After two explosives were set off yesterday morning outside Joppatowne High School, a 20-year-old Joppa man was arrested near the school wearing a camouflage jacket and carrying three loaded handguns, police said.

David Martin Wachter, a Joppatowne graduate described by acquaintances as a moody young man with a history of threatening behavior, was being held yesterday at the Harford County Detention Center pending arraignment on charges of possession of handguns on school property, carrying a concealed and dangerous weapon, assault and resisting arrest.

He complained that he was injured during his arrest and was taken to Fallston General Hospital, but no treatment was necessary, according to a sheriff's spokesman, Maj. L. Jesse Bane.

The incident began yesterday with a small explosion that was set off near the school about 8:45 a.m. A second blast led to the hasty evacuation of the school's staff and 1,000 students.

Witnesses told detectives that a man emerged from nearby woods after the first explosion, approached a group of students outside for gym class and showed them a stick of dynamite.

"He said, 'If you want to scare any teachers, here is what you scare them with,' " related Michael J. Wenham, an 18-year-old senior who witnessed the incident.

Then the man was described as showing a .38-caliber handgun and saying, "If that won't scare them, this will."

Students said they watched in frightened silence as the man walked over to the high school building, stuck a piece of dynamite into a library wall and lighted it. A small explosion followed. There was minor damage.

The high school was evacuated as Harford County sheriff's deputies, state police and investigators from the state fire marshal's office swarmed through the building.

Mr. Wachter's 14-year-old sister, a student at Joppatowne, was among those hustled out of the school.

Police said county deputies spotted Mr. Wachter near the school a short time later and chased him by car and then on foot.

Mr. Wachter's arrest did not seem to surprise Joppa residents who know him.

"He's been in trouble before," said Mike S. Brown, 14, a Joppatowne freshman, who said he had known Mr. Wachter for years.

Mr. Brown said Mr. Wachter "gets in these weird moods. One time you'll see him, and he's all right. The next time you see him, he'll pull a knife on you. He's just a person you want to stay away from."

"He's been haunting us in our neighborhood for years," said one woman who has known Mr. Wachter since he was 9 and described him as "bad news. I was scared to go into my house at night because of him. Even when he was young, he was bad."

Major Bane said there were two outstanding warrants for Mr. Wachter's arrest for failure to appear in court on charges of breaking and entering and theft.

He was sentenced in July 1989 to four years of probation and 100 hours of community service for malicious destruction and using a telephone to make obscene phone calls.

He was arrested the following month and charged with felony theft. He was arrested again in October 1989 and charged with breaking into a Joppa home and stealing a $180 gold necklace and $400 in cash.

His most recent arrest was in January on charges of theft of under $300 and making false statements to an officer.

Several students said they had seen Mr. Wachter walking around the school grounds in recent days, sometimes watching the school's undefeated football team at afternoon practice near the spot where the explosions occurred.

"He was a familiar face," said Anthony Delgado, 17, a senior. "The gym teachers all knew him."

Yesterday, students said they had heard and seen an explosion before a man appeared during a first-period gym class, coming from a wooded area about 250 yards from the school.

"This guy came walking out of the woods," said J. J. Oswik, 17, a senior.

"He asked us if we wanted to buy some dynamite. He was acting weird and wanted to know if there were any teachers who didn't like."

Most of the teen-agers didn't pay much attention to the man until he pulled out a half-stick of dynamite and explained how to detonate it, Mr. Wenham said.

About 20 members of both the state fire marshal's bomb squad and state police with bomb-sniffing dogs made a sweep of the school building and grounds.

Students who had parked their cars in the school lot milled around in an area designated by police, waiting several hours before they could retrieve their cars.

Robert B. Thomas, spokesman for the fire marshal, said workers were attempting to gather evidence that would later be sent to crime laboratories for analysis.

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