ELIZABETH, NJ — The Delaware man who admitted bringing a loaded handgun and hollow point bullets to a school parking lot in Westfield offered a tearful apology at his sentencing Friday.
Superior Court Judge William A. Daniel sentenced Thomas J. Wilkie, 46, of Bear, Delaware, to a 5-year term in state prison. Wilkie must serve 42 months of that term before he becomes eligible for parole, terms previously agreed on by the parties, said Daniel, who noted 253 days of credit for the time Wilkie has remained jailed since his arrest in the parking lot of Tamaques Elementary School on June 13, 2019.
“I am sorry, eternally sorry, to the children parents’, staff and faculty of the school,” Willkie said as he stood handcuffed and clad in a beige jumpsuit. “I don’t expect anyone to understand what I did, but I hope that one day I could be forgiven.”
Wilkie acknowledged the “sheer terror” bringing a gun to the school grounds raised in the community and discussed his struggles with mental illness. He had previously pleaded guilty to second degree unlawful possession of a firearm.
“I’m not a monster who’s going to take a child’s life forever,” said Wilkie, who wiped tears from his face as he read from a prepared statement. “I made a terrible mistake and am going to pay my debt to society and get right with the house again.”
Public defender Whitney McCann told the judge that while Wilkie had entered the school there is no evidence to show he brought the gun inside with him.
“He’s looking for [...] his friend, asking for help, and he’s told to wait in the parking lot, and he does what he’s instructed to do,” McCann said.
Assistant Union County prosecutor Nicole Siano said Wilkie had extra magazines present. In addition to finding two loaded ammunition clips on Wilkie’s person, officers found 130 rounds of ammunition in the trunk of his car, according to authorities.
“The need for New Jersey and society to deter defendants such as this defendant from going to a school with a gun — a loaded gun or even a fake gun at this point — that need is paramount,” Siano said.
A tip from the New Castle County Police Department in Delaware had tipped Westfield police off to Wilkie’s presence in the parking lot, where officers found him in his car with the gun in his lap.
“There was emotional harm that waved throughout Westfield and throughout the school that the defendant didn’t contemplate,” Siano said.
Wilkie’s actions threatened grave harm to the public, the judge said.
“The location of the offense — in a parking lot of a school, a school in Westfield — the need for deterrence cries out,” Daniel said.
Responding to a request from Wilkie, Daniel agreed to recommend Wilkie serve his sentence nearer to his family in Delaware, noting that the man is father to a 6-year-old girl.
“It’s really up to the Department of Corrections, but obviously if you can serve this prison sentence near to where your family members live, that benefits everyone,” Daniel told him.