Suicidal note led to arrest

Dismissed Loyola student accused of setting fire to professor's home wanted `eye for an eye'

August 26, 2006|By Gadi Dechter and Nick Shields | Gadi Dechter and Nick Shields,Sun reporters

An expelled Loyola College graduate student accused of setting fire to a former professor's house Thursday morning left behind a confessional note describing thoughts of suicide and vengeance, police said.

In the note, Garrett Alder, 25, blamed Loyola professor Bradley Erford for destroying his life and confessed to having homicidal thoughts about his former supervisor, according to charging documents.

"I am very excited about getting an `eye for an eye' with Erford," Alder wrote, the documents say. "He ruined my life and future and now he is gonna get an awakening. I feel I am sacrificing myself in another way to help society from people like Brad Erford."

Alder, of East Hampton, Conn., is charged with three counts of attempted murder, two counts of arson and one count of stalking after being found Thursday morning by a police dog in woods behind Erford's house in Shrewsbury, Pa., according to area Police Chief Jim Childs.

Erford and his two children were at home when the fire started but escaped unharmed, authorities said.

Faculty members at Loyola familiar with Alder when he was a graduate student there from 2003 to 2005 described his expulsion as unpleasant, and one former instructor said she felt threatened enough by him that police were stationed outside her classroom.

Alder was twice dismissed from Loyola's master's program in school counseling because of poor academic performance, according to Victor Delclos, the chairman of the school's education department. Alder successfully appealed the first dismissal, on the grounds that a misprint in one version of the student handbook put the maximum number of allowable C grades as three, not two.

"The requirement in the program is that you cannot get more than two Cs," Delclos said.

Mickey Fenzel, another education professor who sat on the appeals panel, recalled Alder as being upset at the time, but not aggressively so. "I didn't catch any animosity or anything like that at that point," Fenzel said.

But by the end of his final semester, Alder's behavior had become more troubling to Marcia Lathroum, his instructor in the program's culminating internship, where students spend 600 hours in a public school, working with students.

Alder was assigned to a Baltimore County elementary school.

"There was never, ever any inappropriate actions toward the [elementary school] students," Lathroum said, "I want to make that clear."

But, she said, Alder was neglecting his work. "He basically shut down," said Lathroum, who also works as a school counseling specialist with the state education department. "He was refusing to do any assignments."

When Lathroum warned Alder that he was in danger of failing the internship, he sent her e-mails that became "increasingly belligerent" in his refusal to do the work, she said.

Lathroum emphasized that Alder never made any personal threats toward her but said the "aggressive" tone of his e-mail messages was sufficiently threatening to her that a police officer was stationed outside her Timonium classroom for the last three classes Alder attended.

During those last few Monday nights, Erford also came to Loyola's satellite campus, Lathroum said. "The last few classes, he knew I was concerned, and he stayed ... until Garrett [Alder] was out of the building."

On the last Monday in March 2005, Alder and Lathroum once again argued over his work, and the student ran out of the building, Lathroum said.

But though Alder's second dismissal went through shortly after, Erford did hear from the student again, according to Shrewsbury area police.

In October last year, the Loyola professor filed a complaint that Alder was making harassing phone calls to his house, according to police documents.

Delclos said Erford hadn't told him that Alder had resurfaced last fall. "It was at least a year and half ago that he was dismissed," Delclos said. "I was totally blown away when I got the call yesterday" from Erford, he said.

A woman who answered the door at Erford's home in Shrewsbury yesterday said he would have no comment, and she referred all questions to the university.

Delclos said his colleague appeared to be taking the incident in stride. "He was actually much calmer than I would have been myself," Delclos said. "He said that everyone was OK. His kids and wife were OK, and the animals, and he wasn't sure how much damage had been done [to the house]."

About 6:30 Thursday morning, Gale Reed, 36, who lives on the same block of neat single-family homes as Erford, said she saw flames near the professor's garage.

"I woke up the father," she said. "I said, `Your house is on fire in the back.'"

Reed, who assumed it was a small electrical fire, said she and Erford started to douse it with a garden hose. But when smoke continued to pour out, Erford went back into his house and called 911, she said.

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