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A loner, an arsenal, and for police, a close call

A lot of people in this working-class town southeast of Camden never knew quite what to make of Matthew Lovett.

At Collingswood High School, from which he graduated last month, his tattered T-shirts, social awkwardness and limp made him an outcast and, frequently, the object of ridicule.

Near his home, where he lived with his father and 14-year-old brother above a deli on a rundown commercial strip, he could often be seen walking the street carrying a baseball bat. Periodically, he would hide behind the bushes and startle girls when they passed by, neighbors said.

None of his unusual behavior, however, appeared so obviously dangerous as what was observed Sunday, when Lovett, 18, and two teenage friends were arrested while carrying an arsenal of machetes, guns and ammunition after the police say they tried to hijack a car on a quiet street.

Prosecutors said they had planned to kill three middle school students for teasing Lovett's younger brother, and then use all 2,000 rounds of ammunition they were carrying to kill other town residents at random. The names of the students were on a list the boys were carrying, officials said.

For all their firepower, Lovett and his friends were unable to halt the car, and when the driver alerted the police, a single police officer persuaded them to surrender without a shot having been fired.

On Monday, Lovett was arraigned on a variety of weapons and murder conspiracy charges and held on $1-million bail. The two others were charged with juvenile offenses.

Lovett's uncle Thomas Crymes said he considered the episode to be a cry for help. "He absolutely could not have followed through with that," Crymes said of the reports of plans of a bloodbath. "If he was determined to do that, then he would have shot," he added, taking note of Lovett's surrender.

The Camden County prosecutor, Vincent P. Sarubbi, said he considered the incident so serious and the potential harm so great that he would seek to have the younger youths, ages 14 and 15, tried as adults.

Residents wondered whether the teasing that had been directed at Lovett and his brother, who has a speech impediment, might have pushed him too far. "A lot of people made fun of them," said Lance Jones, 18, of nearby Collingswood, "but no one meant anything by it, and no one wanted it to end like this."

Investigators would not discuss the evidence for their charges, but they said they seized several computers at Lovett's home and one of the teenagers had discussed the evidence.

Sarubbi described Lovett as "the ringleader" and said the youths began planning an attack in January and had tried to carry it out several times. The authorities said the youths used some of Lovett's father's extensive collection of licensed rifles, shotguns and pistols on Sunday because the father was away at the Jersey Shore.

When the youths tried to commandeer the car in front of Oaklyn Middle School at 3:45 Sunday morning, the police said, all three were heavily armed: each carried a machete and a high-powered rifle, and had a shotgun slung over his shoulder and a pistol holstered at his waist.

The driver of the car swerved to avoid them, then drove to the police station two blocks away. When Officer Charles Antrelli found the youths several minutes later, Lovett pointed a rifle at him, but all three suspects dropped their weapons when the officer drew his gun, the authorities say.

Lovett's father, Ron, released a statement Monday apologizing for Matthew's actions. Lovett's mother died several years ago, neighbors said.