Neighbors feared suspect in school explosives case

September 26, 1990|By Bruce Reidand Joe Nawrozki | Bruce Reidand Joe Nawrozki,Evening Sun Staff

Neighbors of David M. Wachter say they were not surprised when they learned that the Joppa man had been accused of asking Joppatowne High students whether they wanted him to "do away with" any teachers before allegedly igniting two explosives near the school.

"He has terrorized all of us," said Carol A. Wehner, a resident of Williams Mobile Home Park in Joppa, where Wachter, 20, also lived with his parents. The park is about a mile from the school in southern Harford County.

Just Monday night, Wehner said, she and other residents saw Wachter walking around the park carrying handguns. "We literally had to run him out of the park with guns of our own," Wehner said.

Wachter was charged with carrying firearms on school property, carrying a concealed, deadly weapon, assault on a police officer and resisting arrest after an M-80 firecracker and another explosive device were set off outside Joppatowne High around 8:30 a.m. yesterday.

Students and school officials said the suspect made threatening remarks about scaring teachers and offered to "do away" with some teachers there. No one was injured in the incident, which ended within minutes when police apprehended Wachter two blocks away. The school's 771 students were dismissed from classes while police with bomb-sniffing dogs searched the school and the grounds.

Wachter was being held on $30,000 bail at the Harford County Detention Center.

Maj. Jesse Bane, a spokesman for the Harford County Sheriff's Department, said police had been searching for Wachter since last week in connection with two warrants against him for an alleged breaking and entering and an alleged theft.

Investigators said they had no motive for yesterday's incident.

Wachter graduated from Joppatowne High two years ago after transferring there a year earlier. His senior class yearbook includes a picture of him, but lists no activities.

Some residents of the mobile home park where Wachter lives said they were fearful of him. Carmen Madonna, a resident, said he often had seen Wachter walking around the park. Madonna said he didn't think Wachter had a job.

"He's just a kid with too much time on his hands," Madonna said.

Joe Barrett, a junior who was in a gym class that Wachter reportedly approached on an athletic field yesterday, said Wachter displayed a box of explosives.

" 'This will scare them, and if that doesn't this will,' " Barrett said Wachter told the 25 or so students. The man then pulled out one of the weapons from underneath the bulky coat he was wearing, Barrett said.

He walked up to the students and said, "Do you have any teachers you want done away with?" said Albert Seymour, a spokesman for the county school system.

At that point, Wachter allegedly detonated what some officials said was an M-80, a large firecracker. Another one of the devices was set off closer to the school, Seymour said.

Wachter then ran from the property of the high school down Joppa Farm Road, officials said. He was captured by four deputies and a state trooper running in a field on Haslett Road, about two blocks from the school, Maj. Bane said.

"When the deputies first observed him, he took off and ran," Bane said. "They gave chase, caught up and he resisted arrest."

After authorities declared the school safe, teachers and administrators were allowed to return to the school by early afternoon.

Bob Thomas, deputy state fire marshal, said investigators were to study the remains of the explosives to determine whether Wachter is to face additional charges for carrying or using illegal explosives.

The incident left school officials wondering how much worse the incident could have turned out and grateful that Wachter did not carry out his threats.

"You hate to think that anything like this would happen at a school," said Bane, the spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. "It's a sad commentary when you have to deal with this kind of thing at a school."

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