Teams press hunt for boy's body A 12-hour search yesterday failed to find the Haddonfield junior, 17, who jumped off the Ben Franklin Bridge Sunday.

Posted: April 10, 2007

A 12-hour search yesterday failed to locate the body of a South Jersey teenager who leapt from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge early Sunday after a brief car chase that began in Old City.

Marine units from the Delaware River Port Authority and the New Jersey State Police scoured the banks of the Delaware River looking for the youth, a star athlete, scholar, and junior at Haddonfield Memorial High School.

John "JT" Haggerty, 17, was last seen by his family Saturday night. When his father, John Haggerty, asked his son what his plans were for the evening, JT said he was going out with friends.

"I told him to be careful," Haggerty said. "He said he wasn't driving."

What prompted Haggerty to drive to Philadelphia later that night in his Lexus remained a mystery yesterday.

Shortly after midnight, Philadelphia police said they spotted Haggerty driving erratically near Seventh and Arch Streets. According to police, Haggerty tried to run down an officer and then sped toward the bridge and New Jersey.

Nobody can explain what happened next.

Haggerty crested the bridge and pulled his car over. He got out, jumped down to the PATCO tracks, then leapt off the north side of the span. He fell 145 feet, presumably to his death.

Yesterday, much of Haddonfield was in mourning. Though the high school was closed for spring break, school officials opened it to any of its 770 students who needed counseling, superintendent Joseph O'Brien said.

More than 100 took advantage of the offer, he said. Twenty-five faculty members voluntarily turned out to comfort and counsel them.

O'Brien said the tragedy was particularly hard-hitting because Easter was supposed to be a celebration of hope and renewal.

"It will forever change the celebration of this time for our students and faculty," he said. "It's very serious. We're not used to it, and we never want to get used to it."

Rumor and speculation swirled around the upscale and tight-knit community about Haggerty's last hours. Why he drove to Philadelphia, no one could say.

"It was extremely unusual for him to have been there in Philadelphia," his father said. "He was not familiar with Old City at all. I don't know why he would have been there."

He said his son hadn't mentioned any problems at school, where he was taking Advanced Placement chemistry and history.

In addition, he believed drugs could not have played a role in his son's death.

"He's had drug tests twice a year because he was both a football player and a wrestler," the elder Haggerty said.

Haggerty was a starting wide receiver and defensive back on the 2006 championship Haddonfield Memorial football team. Football coach Frank DeLano remembered him as a popular student who was as serious about academics as he was about athletics.

"He was always surrounded by a group of laughing, smiling friends," DeLano said. "JT was a kid who had his priorities in order, and the kind of kid you want your football program to be about. He was always the first to be at practice and the last to leave the field. He had many big plays, including an interception in our playoff win."

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 856-779-3838 or at samwood@phillynews.com.

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