Suspect In Locker Bomb Arraigned, Held For Psychiatric Evaluation

Posted: June 08, 1989

Phillip DeFelice, who was charged Tuesday with planting a bomb that exploded in a classmate's locker, told investigators that he "was trying to send a message," to students who had pestered him, said Shawnee High School Principal Gordon Galtere yesterday.

The booby-trapped locker exploded Tuesday morning at the Medford Township school, injuring one of the students who had taunted DeFelice.

DeFelice, 18, an electronics whiz and Eagle Scout who planned to attend Drexel University next year, yesterday was ordered held in the Burlington County Jail on $100,000 bail until he underwent a psychiatric evaluation.

Wearing a tan jailhouse jumpsuit and manacled at the wrists and ankles, the lanky DeFelice stood before Burlington County Superior Court Judge Cornelius Sullivan while he was arraigned on charges of aggravated assault, aggravated arson and possession of an explosive device.

He asked the judge that a public defender be appointed to represent him.

The victim, freshman Brian Kerfoot, 15, was released from Memorial Hospital of Burlington County yesterday and was resting at home. He suffered first- and second-degree burns on his face and arms.

"It's just so tragic for everyone involved," said Kerfoot's mother, Barbara. She said that her son had never gotten into trouble at school and that the bombing was the first she knew that Brian had been involved with harassing DeFelice.

"I'm not saying he's blameless," she said. "Kids will be cruel."

In an unrelated incident yesterday, a Shawnee senior was arrested after he threatened to blow up a teacher's home, police said.

Christopher J. Gilmartin, 18, of Bridgewater Drive in Marlton, was charged with making terroristic threats after he was told that he faced disciplinary action for missing a detention. He was arrested by Medford Lt. Stephen Addezio, who was at the school investigating Tuesday's bombing incident.

Bombs were the talk of the school yesterday as Shawnee's 1,800 students returned to classes after being dismissed Tuesday when officials evacuated the school.

In interviews, students recounted the lunchroom feud that led to the bombing. "This quarrel's been going on for a year," said John Woods, 16.

DeFelice, a straight-laced loner and honors student who sometimes dressed in a tie, was hounded by about six underclassmen known for their skateboarding proficiency. During the 11:37 a.m. lunch period, students said DeFelice was called "rat," "nerd" and "geek."

Several weeks ago, DeFelice got into a lunchroom scuffle with one of his hecklers, and both were reprimanded, the principal said. Kerfoot was not involved. Students and school officials said that Kerfoot continued to berate DeFelice after the fight.

Afterward, an assistant principal had a conference with DeFelice and his parents - the first disciplinary action the youth had received in high school - and he was required to take a note to his teachers explaining what had happened, school officials said.

His honors physics teacher, Jack Smith, said he was taken aback when DeFelice presented the note.

"I said, 'Phil, fighting?' " recalled Smith. "It didn't seem like his nature. He said, 'I couldn't take it anymore.' "

"It was kid stuff, but it kept on going," said Galtere, the principal. ''Maybe we should have done more."

About the time of the fight, DeFelice threatened to "blow up the whole lunch table," Burlington County Prosecutor Stephen G. Raymond said. Students said DeFelice's antagonists would check under the table when they sat down for lunch.

Galtere, in an announcement yesterday morning on the school's public address system, expressed disappointment that some students apparently knew of DeFelice's plans and neither confronted him nor warned school officials.

"The folks who may have had prior knowledge were almost as culpable as Phil," said Galtere.

After the bomb went off, DeFelice quickly became the prime suspect.

Raymond said that DeFelice had made the bomb in the woods near his colonial style home on Nyoda Trail in Tabernacle. He packed the eight-inch-long bomb with gunpowder.

DeFelice slipped out of an awards banquet at the high school on Monday night - during which he received a $2,000 scholarship - and planted the bomb in the upper section of locker No. 1305, Raymond said.

Raymond described the bomb as "sophisticated." It was rigged with two batteries and a mercury switch, connected by a string to the upper locker door, he said.

"The triggering mechanism on the bomb could never have been defused . . . it was too unstable," according to Galtere, who said he has spoken with investigators. "Once it was made, it had to go."

Students said that Kerfoot shared the locker with another freshman, who opened the locker before Kerfoot - but did not open the door to the upper section.

A few minutes later - at 7:10 a.m. - Kerfoot opened the upper door and triggered the explosion.

The explosion scorched Kerfoot's face and left the dark-green locker streaked in black. It also blew a half-dollar-size hole in the locker's metal shelf.

Rather than graduating on June 20, DeFelice has been suspended from school for 10 days and faces a 10-year sentence on the felony charges against him. The principal said DeFelice would not attend graduation.

"It was kind of sad today," Smith, the physics teacher, said yesterday. ''I had put up a brag sheet where all the kids wrote what college they're going to. Phil was going to Drexel. He was real proud of that.

"I guess that's all out the window now."

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