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Intentionally set incendiary device explodes at UNC, sends professor to hospital

An intentionally set incendiary device planted at the base of a popular tree at the University of North Carolina recently exploded and sent a professor to hospital; meanwhile the arson suspect, a former student, faces six felony charges.

The device erupted Thursday at the Davie Poplar tree, planted when the university was first founded. The tree is located near a controversial Confederate statue that has been the subject of heated student protests in recent months.

Astronomy Professor Dan Reichart had been strolling along campus when the former Eagle Scout spotted a small fire burning at the base of the tree. As he attempted to stomp out the flames, the device exploded, propelling him backward and seriously burning his face and arms, according to news reports and video of the incident.

Reichart remains hospitalized, campus spokeswoman Jeni Cook told The College Fix on Monday.

“We do not know the motive nor do we know the type of explosive device that was used,” Cook also told The Fix.

An incident report provided to The College Fix states that the suspect is 24-year-old Joshua Daniel Edwards. He is a former student, Cook said.

He now faces six felony charges: malicious use of explosives to inflict injury, malicious use of explosives to damage property, assembling a weapon of mass destruction, setting fire to grass, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, and filing a false police report.

Edwards has yet to be formally charged, and because of that “there is no official arrest report or mug shot as yet,” Cook said.

WRAL reported Monday that “Edwards remains at UNC Hospitals, where he was taken after the Thursday afternoon incident to undergo a mental evaluation. He will be taken into custody upon his release.”

As for the incident, at first the fire at the base of the tree appeared small, according to videos, which may explain why Reichart tried to extinguish it.

“While Reichart originally thought his injuries were not considered serious, he actually lost 10-11 percent of his skin, mainly on his face, lower arms, and back of his hands,” reports ABC News.

Although an official motive is unclear at this time, a UNC alum suggested to The College Fix that the tree may have been targeted due to its proximity to the Confederate statue Silent Sam, which honors former students who left the university to fight in the Civil War.

The Confederate statue, located near the historic tree in the same quad, has been the target of heated student protests, so much so that even an undercover officer had been recently assigned to protect it in addition to regular police protection.

The UNC’s website notes the significance of the Davie Poplar tree. It is known for its resilience and historical significance, “where, as legend has it, Revolutionary War General William R. Davie selected the site for the University.” It is located alongside monuments that recognize the college’s foundation and defining moments.

Although damaged, the tree still stands and is expected to survive, according to news reports.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also reported Reichart remains optimistic despite recent events, and has gotten much support from his students and faculty members.

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Haley Toy -- Palomar College

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