Crime: Why Matthew Snapped

Last week, when Oaklyn, N.J., police caught Matthew Lovett, along with two other boys, toting five guns and 2,000 rounds of ammunition, he was pegged as an Eric Harris on his way to commit another Columbine. But Lovett's family says Matthew's trek was a momentary misjudgment sparked by anxiety problems--not a carefully plotted murder mission, as prosecutors allege.

Lovett, a loner who'd been teased at school, had been planning for months with his two friends to kill three other teens and random individuals, say authorities, who have charged the trio with conspiracy to commit murder. But his uncle Tom Crymes told NEWSWEEK his nephew wasn't capable of such a scheme. Lovett's mother, Lorna, who died when he was 9, was plagued by panic attacks and was afraid to go outside, according to Crymes. Matthew and his little brother, James, born with a severe cleft palate, rarely left the apartment. When they did, they were harassed by neighborhood kids. A year after their mother died, their half sister was killed. The boys retreated to their room, playing videogames and watching movies.

Since Matthew graduated several weeks ago, his father's girlfriend, Renee Johnson, had been telling Matthew that he needed to get on with his life. "He told me, 'I want to stay here with my dad and James'," says Crymes. "I think there's a little paranoia there."

One potential issue for the prosecution: if Matthew, who is undergoing psychiatric evaluation, wanted to kill a lot of people, why would he head out at 3:45 a.m.? "We allege that this was planned, not that it was well planned," says Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi in an e-mail. But a letter in which Matthew reportedly discusses murderous designs will make the defense difficult. Even if the stunt was a cry for help, it could land him in prison for 40 years.