Suspect in UNC tree fire says 'hug a tree' in first court appearance

Friday, November 17, 2017
Bizarre response from tree-burning suspect
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Former UNC student Joshua Edwards made a first appearance in court Thursday.

HILLSBOROUGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- The man accused of setting up an explosive device at a historic tree on UNC's campus made his first court appearance Thursday, facing up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

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Joshua D. Edwards, 24, entered the Orange County Courthouse in handcuffs and wearing a smile, declaring, "Hug a tree for me, please. Hug a tree."

A former UNC student, Edwards is charged with six felonies, including malicious use of incendiary device

An incendiary device detonated near the Davie Poplar tree
Credit: Evan White/@EJWimages

His appearance on Thursday comes two weeks after the incident at the Davie Poplar Tree at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and it also follows two weeks that Edwards spent in medical evaluation.

The fire injured one professor, Dan Reichart, who said he feels no anger toward Edwards but hopes justice is served.

"Mental illness is a tough thing," Reichart told ABC11. "I know a lot of people have suffered through it and I hope (Edwards) can get the treatment he needs."

Reichart, whose UNC career in the Astronomy department spans 15 years, received the Old North State Award on Thursday from Gov. Roy Cooper for his bravery in trying to put out the fire. He sustained first- and second-degree burns on his face and arms, and plans to return to class in the spring.

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