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Police: Arrests foiled teens' killing spree plot

'They had the intent to kill,' witness says

Matthew Lovett, 18, is taken to a police vehicle.
Matthew Lovett, 18, is taken to a police vehicle.

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OAKLYN, New Jersey (CNN) -- A failed carjacking that led to the arrest of three teenagers was to be the first step in a planned killing spree that allegedly was to have targeted three classmates and then random others in Oaklyn, New Jersey, authorities there said Monday.

"They had the intent to kill, I mean, I've seen that look before. They had the intent to kill," said Matthew Rich, whom police say was the teens' intended carjacking victim. "That's when I knew. My instincts told me it's time to move on. Don't stand, don't play around with these guys, just get out of there."

The teens were arrested early Sunday after what Oaklyn Police Chief Chris Ferrari called a "brief but tense standoff."

Camden County prosecutor Vincent Sarubbi said the youths had hatched a plan in January to kill three schoolmates, "then move on and randomly kill people throughout the borough of Oaklyn."

"They had in fact begun to initiate this plan," he said.

Sarubbi said 18-year-old Matthew Lovett was the "mastermind." A judge has set bail at $1 million for Lovett, who faces charges of conspiracy to commit murder, attempted carjacking and unlawful possession of a firearm.

"He was the one who really put this in motion and organized the other two younger youths," Sarubbi said.

He said his office will ask a judge to allow the other two suspects, ages 14 and 15, to be tried as adults on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted carjacking. The youths are being held in a juvenile detention facility pending additional hearings, Sarubbi said.

Lovett's father said Monday that his son was a "homebody" who has never fired a gun. Ron Lovett told CNN his son was voted "most bashful" by his high school classmates and recently graduated "with four A's on his report card.

Authorities say these weapons were taken from the three teenagers.
Authorities say these weapons were taken from the three teenagers.

"He never once let on like he was interested in firing a gun," Ron Lovett said. "He's never fired a gun, and I don't think he would know what ammunition to put in what chamber ..."

The weapons the police found were owned by Lovett's father, who appeared to have the proper permits, Sarubbi said.

The prosecutor said the alleged plot targeted three schoolmates of the suspects, but he declined to discuss a motive.

"We don't have all the information," he said. "It would be premature, and we may mischaracterize the true motive in this situation."

Matthew Lovett had no discipline problems or referrals while attending Collingswood High School, said James Bathurst, school superintendent for the Collingswood Board of Education.

In a statement Monday, Bathurst said the school district was cooperating with investigators and would have no further comment.

Police say teens had guns, swords

The three teens were arrested at 3:48 a.m. EDT Sunday after attempting to carjack a vehicle, Ferrari said. The driver managed to drive off and alert police, who went to the scene and found the youths, authorities said.

When confronted by police, the teens refused to drop their weapons, and Lovett appeared to point a gun at an officer, Ferrari said.

All three teens had rifles and shotguns strapped to their backs and handguns tucked in their waistbands, and carried 3-foot-long swords, knives and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition when they were arrested, Ferrari said.

Ron Lovett said his wife died nine years ago, leaving behind two sons. Matthew's younger brother was born with a severely cleft palate, which caused social problems for the boys, the father said.

"When they used to go out when they were little, of course, people would pick on the brother, and then Matt would have to defend him," Ron Lovett said. "So they became kind of homebodies and withdrawn because they didn't want to be out in public. They didn't get along well with their peers because of his younger brother's problems."

Former classmate Paul Phillip agreed that Matthew Lovett became more withdrawn after his mother's death, but said nothing led him to believe that Lovett would become violent.

"I'm a little surprised, but you can only push a kid so far, you know? I mean, people [have been] making fun of him for the longest time," Phillip said.

Another classmate who has known Lovett since kindergarten also said he was picked on.

"It's just a shame. Everyone would always pick on him because of the way he dressed." Tom Urick said. "He used to wear raggedy clothes like sweatpants, just, like, torn T-shirts."

Investigators have seized several computers and will pull information off their hard drives, Sarubbi said.

"This kind of conduct that you've heard over the last day or so is the kind of conduct that we normally would consider along with our most serious offenders," he said. "This isn't the kind of thing you expect to hear from a 14- or 15-year-old, or an 18-year-old, for that matter."


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