ncovered: Missing All The Signs is a four-part investigative podcast into the bomb explosion outside Gaylord Family -Oklahoma Memorial Stadium as the Sooners took on Kansas State on Oct. 1, 2005. The case investigates the life of OU student Joel Henry Hinrichs, the man responsible for creating and detonating said bomb.  Terrorism conspiracy theories engulfed the community as the FBI looked at a man with mental health issues. Over the last 15 years, changes have been made to OU’s mental health resources to prevent threats to campus.

Episode One Script

P: The sweet smell of barbecue filled the air along Jenkins Avenue in Norman. Faces were lathered in paint, and fans donned their favorite crimson and cream attire. Like any other Saturday in the fall — it was football time in Oklahoma.

Thousands of Sooner football fans were tailgating around Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on the University of Oklahoma’s campus the afternoon of October 1, 2005. The Sooners were preparing for a 6 p.m. kickoff against an easy Kansas State team after starting the season a measly 1-2. 

As the excitement for the game ramped up outside the stadium, six blocks away waited Joel Henry Hinrichs.

Joel, a mechanical engineering senior at OU, sported an unruly chinstrap beard, which contrasted his short, black, curly hair. He was a lanky man, standing at 6 feet, 3 inches.

Joel was in his Parkview apartment, an OU complex in the neighborhood immediately southeast of the stadium, filling his backpack with the items he needed for the day.

The stadium filled up as 82,000 fans scanned their tickets and made their way to their seats. 

It’s an 11-minute walk from where Parkview once stood to the stadium, and Joel made his way, carrying his stuffed backpack. Despite the 80-degree temperature and 13 mph wind speed, it appeared Joel dressed in layers and wore a baseball cap.

Recording of audio from TV broadcast: Peterson, he breaks through. 15. 10. He’ll Score! Oklahoma’s on the board! *RUF/NEK shotguns* 

P: Joel has made his way to a bench outside George Lynn Cross Hall, around 100 yards west of the packed stadium. The bright student from Colorado, who had once earned a National Merit Scholarship, had recently taken a year off school and was struggling with his mental health. He sat down. And he waited. 

Recording of audio from TV broadcast:  Coming on for the point after, Garrett Hartley, the kicker. Sophomore out of South Lake, Texas. … It’s up. It is good. *RUF/NEK shotguns*

P: The clock read just under 11 minutes left in the second quarter. OU fan Jeff Lawrence said the atmosphere in the stadium shifted.

Recording of Jeff Lawrence: There was kind of like a lull in the crowd. There’s always a point in the game where everyone is crazy and then there’s a moment where not much is going on. People aren’t cheering. There’s not much going on over the intercom — there’s just kind of a lull.

Recording of game from radio broadcast : Here’s Bomar, gives to Peterson. Peterson’s outside him. Thrown for a loss. Back up to the 14 yard line by Maurice Porter. Blitzing on the play, the strong the safety. *EXPLOSION* so a loss from the 12-yard line.

P: Jenny Clemons, a season ticket holder, was sitting in the stadium with her husband when she heard the explosion.

Recording of Jenny Clemons: The bleachers kind of rattled under us and my husband, a Vietnam veteran, he looked at me and goes ‘that was a bomb.’  

P: The OU Daily, in its podcast series Uncovered, examines the 2005 explosion outside of the Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and the chaos, fear and change that ultimately followed. I’m Paxson Haws and I’ll be your host as we hear from those who knew Joel Henry Hinrichs and from those who were involved with the months-long FBI investigation that followed. Joel’s story was riddled with conspiracy theories, driven by fear and paranoia. It had only been four years since the 9/11 terrorist attack devastated the nation, and only 10 years after the Oklahoma City Bombing changed Oklahoma forever. Everyone had the same questions: Was it terrorism? Did he work alone? What led him to that park bench? And why?  

We’ll hear about the discrimination projected towards Joel stemming from the conspiracy theories. We’ll learn about who he was, his struggle with mental illness and the changes to OU’s mental health resources and security guidelines.   

Scooby Axson, then OU Daily’s crime reporter, was the first call The Daily’s editor-in-chief made shortly after the explosion.

Recording of Scooby: That night, I was sitting at home watching the game … and our editor-in-chief called me and says, ‘You need to get down to the stadium.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m watching the game.’ She was like, ‘No, you really need to get down here because people are like, filing out in the second quarter. There’s something going on down here.’

As Axson, who had recently returned from New Orleans where he was providing disaster relief efforts to Hurricane Katrina victims, arrived at the South Oval, an OU police officer who served in the National Guard with Axson immediately pointed out a bomb robot. Now, Axson knew something serious had occurred.

Joel, it turned out, had packed a day planner, chemistry book, wallet, various hand tools and an improvised explosive device in his backpack.

He detonated his bomb, killing himself but harming no others.

Students studying in a nearby building came outside after hearing the explosion and were met by black smoke.

Recording of Scooby: I had them describe to me what they saw. So basically, they saw in, if you could imagine this, a pair of legs on a bench. That’s it.

Law enforcement officers started filing out of the stadium and rushing to the scene. Norman and OU police officers secured the scene and started the investigation. Phil Cotten, who served as the Norman Police Chief at the time, attended the Oct. 1 game. Once Cotten was aware of what had occurred, he returned to the stadium to inform members of the athletic department. The FBI had several agents watching the game inside the stadium and quickly became involved in the investigation.

Recording of Phil Cotten: It kind of looked like it might be like a terrorism attempt or terrorism act. So they came in when the primary jurisdiction was Oklahoma University Police Department. And then the FBI came in to assist.

Recording of Scooby: It was absolutely a circus on campus.

Recording of Scooby: The next day, I go down to the south oval. It looks straight-out like a CSI scene. Like there’s like FBI and there’s like markers where evidence is. It looks straight out of a TV show. And so the bench where the gentleman set and strapped the bomb to himself, there was a bus right in front of that bench. The Norman Fire Department was out there cleaning off like human remains the next morning. Yeah,  it was that surreal.

With the FBI involved, OU students and Norman residents were itching for information. It wasn’t long before rumors and conspiracy theories were floating around. The FBI interviewed friends and family of Joel, collected evidence, conducted searches, and talked with witnesses and security from the stadium, culminating in an over 100-page case file compiled over 9 months. Everyone wanted to know: What led to Joel killing himself? Why did he use a bomb? Was this a suicide or did Joel have other intentions? 

Recording of Phil Cotten: You have to wonder why a person would be all geared up with all those explosives and walk — I mean real close to the stadium that had 85,000 people in it.


Next time on Uncovered…

Recording of Scooby Axson: This was the talk of, of everybody. Everybody had their conspiracy theories

Recording of  Jenny Clemons: A scary experience, especially when you know, I found out that it was a suicide bomber

Recording of Joel Hinrichs Jr: They won’t tell me what happened to Joe. They just say he’s been seriously harmed and seriously injured.

Episode Two Script

P: You’re listening to Uncovered: Missing All the Signs. I’m Paxson Haws and when we left off in Episode One, Joel Henry Hinrichs had just detonated a self-made bomb outside of a packed Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, killing himself but no others. We’ll pick back up as the FBI began to search into Joel’s life. 

At 3:30 a.m. Oct. 2, eight hours after the bomb went off, FBI officials arrived at Joel’s apartment. An hour later, the special agent bomb technician from the Oklahoma City office arrived on scene.

When the bomb technician navigated through the small apartment and entered Joel’s room, the strong smell of a chemical consistent with peroxide-based explosives lingered in the air.  

The room was filled with material used to create and prepare high explosives. Joel had firecrackers dipped in Triacetone Triperoxide — a self-made explosive created by combining acetone and hydrogen peroxide — numerous mixing bowls, a thermometer, a Crock-Pot, circuit boards and various piles of a white powder.  

On the desk sat Joel’s laptop — still on and in screensaver mode — with one final message typed out in the middle of a document, waiting to be read.

“F— all this. None of you are worth living with. You can all kiss my ass.”

In just under 24 hours, investigators had finished searching Joel’s room and the common area in the apartment.

In the Monday edition of The Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper, ran a story headlined “Bomb material found in student’s apartment.’ It included minimal details about the material found at 506B Sooner Drive. The only detail officials released was bomb technicians would be removing a “cache of explosive material” and were overheard telling neighbors the removal could take 24 hours.

On Wednesday, The Oklahoman reported Joel had raised the suspicions of a Norman Police officer at Ellison Feed & Seed just three days before his death.

An off-duty officer witnessed a man in a white shirt, jeans and a green vest with numerous pockets attempt to purchase a known explosive material.

He filed an intelligence report when he returned to work the following Monday — about 36 hours after Joel had detonated the bomb.

The owner of the store identified Joel as a customer who raised concerns and said he was attempting to purchase ammonium nitrate, the same fertilizer Timothy McVeigh used  just 10 years earlier. McVeigh constructed and detonated the homemade bomb responsible for 168 deaths in Oklahoma City at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

As agents worked to grasp the real story and motivations behind Joel’s attack, the public began circulating its own rumors and theories.

Scooby Axson, former OU Daily crime reporter, recalls the atmosphere in Norman as details were released.

Recording of Scooby: This was the talk of, of everybody. Everybody had their conspiracy theories and things like that.

P: While it had been 10 years since the Oklahoma City bombing, it was just four years since 9/11. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost when 19 terrorists hijacked four flights resulting in the deadliest attack on U.S. soil. A new sense of fear rippled through the nation and lingered for years, making any hint of terrorism revive the feelings felt on that tragic day in September, 2001.

Jeff Lawrence, an OU fan who attended the Oct. 1 game, understood the anxiety many Sooner fans felt.

Recording of Jeff Lawrence: It was a 2005, you know, four years removed from September 11. And, of course, everybody’s suspicions and anxiety are still, you know, a little high.

P: With the limited information released by officials, people were on edge. Was Joel acting alone? Would there be more incidents? What were his motivations? What pushed him to be angry enough at the world to end his life this way?

Jenny Clemons, who attended the Kansas State game with her veteran husband, believes Joel intended to hurt more than himself.

Recording of Jenny Clemons: It was scary. A scary experience, especially when you know, I found out that it was a suicide bomber just outside the stadium. I’m like, ‘Wow is there going to be more attacks?’ It was very scary.

P: Many felt the same way as Clemons and, while the investigation dragged on, the theories spread.

So here’s how most of the theories went.

Joel’s apartment was three blocks south of the two houses used as a mosque for those who follow the Muslim religion, and he passed those houses during every trip he made to campus.  He once had a beard and lived with a Pakistani roommate. These details led some to speculate he was part of an Islamic terrorism conspiracy.

Soon, national media outlets came to town.

Recording of Scooby: That’s why CNN showed up in town, because there was rumors that he was, you know, a member of a mosque or a member of a terror organization.

P: Earlier that year, Joel had responded to a roommate advertisement from Fazal Cheema, an OU student from Pakistan.

Cheema spoke to The Daily through Facebook Messenger due to the hearing implants he’s had since birth.

Cheema said he was portrayed negatively by the media and public. Some theorized Cheema was a jihadi who brainwashed Joel and turned him into a potential Muslim terrorist. He said some went so far as to suggest his hearing implants were a result of an explosion he helped Joel with.

Cheema said the reality was he barely knew his roommate. Joel kept to himself, and their communication never extended past a “hello” when their paths crossed.

He didn’t know Joel had explosives in his bedroom. And Cheema didn’t believe in any religion at the time. But Joel’s dad said people would believe what they wanted about his son.

Recording of Joel Jr.: I find out later that he — his roommate is Pakistani and Muslim, and they live near a mosque and the mosque is on the way to the campus, which leads people to put two and two together and come up as 222.

P: Axson, The Daily’s crime reporter, was aware of these rumors as he covered the case but did not put much weight into them.

Recording of Scooby: We had heard stuff like that, but we’re not going to print that in a paper unless we could. We went to the mosque, they never heard of this guy. This is a 21-year-old white guy from Colorado.

P: The investigation was in full force the day after the explosion and it was in the FBI’s hands to determine what happened and answer everyone’s question: Who was Joel Henry Hinrichs?


Next time on Uncovered…

Recording of Joel Jr:  I had let him down. I had abandoned him. So that just closed the door.

Recording of Joel Jr: He drags that to school and says, I’m going to show everybody how to make a bomb

Episode Three Script

P: You’re listening to Uncovered: Missing All the Signs. I’m Paxson Haws and when we finished Episode Two, Joel Henry Hinrichs Jr. had just learned that his son, Joel, ended his life with a self-made bomb. We will pick back up with the morning the grieving father met the FBI investigators.

The same morning investigators and bomb technicians were searching Joel’s apartment in Norman, officials had arrived at Joel’s home more than 600 miles away in Colorado Springs.  His father recalls that morning.

Recording of Joel Jr.: I come home from church and there’s a policeman and then a plainclothes cop and an FBI guy. And they want access to the house to look at Joey’s possessions. … They looked through it and spent a couple of hours and they couldn’t find very much of anything that would give them a terrorist-style motive, but they saw that he was technically inclined.

P: Joel, the youngest of five, came from a dysfunctional family. During his childhood, it wasn’t uncommon for the family to be separated for months at a time as their father traveled for work as a programmer.

Recording of Joel Jr.: I took employment away from home. And to relieve his mother of the pressure of having five children underfoot, I took his two older brothers with him and he desperately wanted to be included. He wanted to go along. And that’s when he was 6. And, he didn’t. I was away from the house with his brothers for six or seven months.

P: Joel Jr. brought Joel’s brothers back home but it wasn’t long before he had taken another job out of town. Thomas, one of Joel’s older brothers, was the only child Joel Jr. took with him this time as Thomas was schizophrenic. Today, Thomas has been in and out of a federal prison hospital for over eight years, first for assaulting his father and later threatening his parole officer.

P: It all took a toll on young Joel’s relationship with his father. 

Recording of Joel Jr.: He didn’t really feel bonded, that I had abandoned him. So he fired me, to put it in  abrupt terms. I believe that he more or less discharged me and is no longer a parent figure. I had let him down. I had abandoned him. So that just closed the door. And so I didn’t really have a close relationship with a son after that point.

P: Despite the dysfunction, the Hinrichs children were incredibly smart. 

One daughter, Angela, could draw the human body and label the bones from memory at a very young age. The oldest son, Christopher, has a doctorate in computer science. Yet, his siblings have said Joel was the smartest one of the family. 

As a senior in high school, Joel’s intelligence earned him a National Merit Scholarship to OU, where he majored in mechanical engineering — a degree that perfectly suited his childhood interests. 

Joel had always been intrigued by metallurgy — the science and technology of metals — and other mechanical sciences.

Recording of Joel Jr.: He was the one who put together lye and aluminum cans because he’d read somewhere that that will produce hydrogen and he wanted a hydrogen balloon. And so he produced hydrogen.

P: Joel was in the third or fourth grade at the time.

His interests, at first harmless, soon started getting him in trouble during middle school in Naperville, Illinois.

Joel struggled to get along with his fellow classmates and frequently experienced bullying. As the youngest, he became a project for his mother. She groomed him to be at ease in front of audiences and cameras. He became quite comfortable in the presence of adults, who looked at the deeply intelligent young man with pride and adoration, and could easily converse with them. However, none of his mother’s grooming prepared him for a life among peers. 

Joel was a pudgy child at age 13, weighing 150 pounds at 5 feet tall. On top of that, he had a large vocabulary and often spoke in technical terms, which his peers would use against him and twist his words to create fake stories. In the halls of school, classmates would forcefully bump into him and knock the books out of his hands.

In 1997, during the last week of 7th grade, Joel decided to silence the school rumor mill and bullies.

Recording of Joel Jr.: And he brings to, to school, this hollow metal handle of some kind of paving tool. It’s strong and light and long and is used, on one end of it, they have a wide flat blade for smoothing concrete. And on the other end of it a screw-on handle. And somehow he acquires this thing and it’s been broken in half, so it’s about three or four feet long and hollow. And he drags that to school and says, I’m going to show everybody how to make a bomb, which generated a telephone call from the police.

Recording of Joel Jr.: He was expelled from school after first being transported to juvenile hall overnight, because he had done something that they’d been thinking might be a terrorist. He had that effect. He loves things that blew up. What little boy doesn’t?

P: Joel experimenting with explosives wasn’t shocking to Joel Jr. as it was something his son did often.

Once, Joel took a CO2 cartridge, which has a small match-sized hole at the bottom where users can screw the cartridge to various items for power, and packed it with the material used on the heads of matches before setting it off. He also loved the little rockets available at hobby stores because he liked seeing how far they would travel.

Harmless or not, Joel was soon expelled. According to reports from The Oklahoman from October 2005, the hollow metal pole incident left Joel required to wear an ankle bracelet while on house arrest for six weeks. He then attended an alternative school for a short period before attempting homeschool under his father. In May 1999, the family relocated from Naperville, Illinois, to Colorado Springs and Joel started attending Roy J. Wasson High School that fall.

There, Joel found another interest: debate class.

Recording of Joel Jr.: He was pretty good at that. And I was able to be a judge in debate. And that gave me a chance to spend a little time with him. But unbeknownst to me, or his mother, he had become profoundly depressed.

P: At this point, Joel was staying up all night and sleeping during his classes. Soon, his parents wondered if he would graduate. Nonetheless, in March of his senior year he received a full National Merit Scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.

Five months later, Joel moved to Norman and joined the Triangle Fraternity, an independent greek organization that limits membership to male students majoring in engineering, architecture and other sciences.

But the fraternity and move to college did nothing to help Joel. Instead, he plummeted deeper into depression and love of explosion, which would hinder his education and ultimately end his life.

Several Triangle members interviewed by the FBI after Joel’s death described him as lonely, weird, depressed and struggling academically. 

One member said Joel believed he did not have any friends, even among his fraternity. Joel also collected empty ammunition shells, purchased through eBay, and his obsession with guns and explosives was widely known among the fraternity members.

Eventually, a member of the OU Scholars Program referred Joel to Dr. Herbert Spencer, a staff psychologist at OU’s Counseling and Testing Services, in April 2003. He attended sessions in Goddard Health Center — a short walk from Oklahoma Memorial Stadium — until the spring semester ended.

Recording of Joel Jr.: He wasn’t really feeling happy about the world. He spent time with a counselor but he switched out the counselor and wouldn’t cooperate with the counselors. There’s only so much the guy could do. … It’s very voluntary and he just volunteered himself out of treatment.

P: Dr. Spencer, according to the FBI report, concluded that Joel had clinical depression and had developed a pattern of it progressively worsening over three years.

After freshman year, Joel decided to take a year off college and worked stocking inventory overnight, according to The Oklahoman.

Joel returned to school the following year but lost his scholarship. In August 2005, Joel responded to Fazal Cheema’s ad seeking a roommate and moved into the Parkview Apartments, an OU apartment complex about a 10-minute walk southeast of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Cheema: He kept to himself and my impression was that he is just private and needs his space. I actually learned most things about him from the press coverage after the incident.

Cheema had no idea Joel was experimenting with explosives in the apartment. The few times Cheema saw him in his room, he was on his laptop and they never spent any time together in the living room.

Around the time Joel moved in with Cheema, Joel’s parents had split up and were projecting their anger toward each other onto their 21-year-old son.

Recording of Joel Jr.: Joey had been evidently exchanging emails with his mother and his mother, um, unloaded her angst and anger against me. In private emails, you know, neither one of us were very fair to our kids. We’ve generally involved them as intermediaries and bitch about each other to the kids which is rather undignified and stupid and counterproductive.

P: One week before Joel would detonate his homemade bomb, he sent an email to his father asking how to fix his car. Joel Jr. responded with advice on both the car and unprompted advice on how to gain a girl’s interest.

It was their final conversation.

During the investigation, the FBI would find an unaddressed message on Joel’s open laptop. It read, “F— all this. None of you are worth living with. You can all kiss my ass.”

Recording of Joel Jr. believes it was meant for himself and his wife.

P: What was less clear, however, was how the intelligent little boy became a troubled young man alone on a park bench 100 yards from a venue filled with 82,000 people. A young, depressed individual who has an unusual obsession with explosives and has been viewed as a possible terrorist before.

Recording of Joel Jr.: Saturday evening, he was sitting near the football stadium facing away from it with a TATP — triacetone triphosphate — compound which is somewhat unstable and enormously powerful. He has a stocking full of it, looped around his neck, he lights a match and goodbye. He took his own life … and there’s nothing left, you know, from the neck up, but his scalp and bits of his fingers.


Next time on Uncovered…

Recording of Scooby Axson: It wasn’t terrorism. It was a guy that was just fed up with his life.

Recording of Scott Miller: Folks that get to the point of wanting to do something violent on campus usually show signs of distress earlier.

Recording of Jenny Clemons: He tried to get in that stadium several times and got turned away with that backpack but he came in there to blow us up.

Episode Four Script

P: You’re listening to Uncovered: Missing All the Signs. I’m _____ and when we finished Episode Three, investigators had spoken with friends and family of Joel Henry Hinrichs to find out more information about his life. They discovered he came from a dysfunctional family, was depressed and had a long-held obsession with explosives. We’ll pick back up with the FBI’s investigation.

“I’m not doing so well,” the 21-year-old wrote in a message sent from his OU email account investigators found. “I seem to be getting worse and worse. I actually asked a girl out for the first time last week, but she said she was already dating someone. I missed my classes today and didn’t finish or turn in a lab that was worth 1/9th of the grade in one of them. I missed the career fair, so I don’t even have a way of getting a job next summer, much like I can’t seem to get around to getting a job now. So I feel really bad,” Joel wrote on Sept. 22, 2005, to a recipient whose name was redacted in the FBI report.

As the FBI searched Joel’s Norman apartment, the Computer Analysis Response Team analyzed Joel’s computer and two external hard drives.

They found that Joel had created four profiles — Able, Baker, Charlie and Duke — on his computer and designated topics for each one. Able remained mostly inactive. Baker was used for communicating with Joel’s family. Charlie was used to access and store pornography. 

Duke was different. It was where Joel stored information on chemicals, weapons and technical data. The FBI examiner describes this profile as an electronic encyclopedia for acids, chemicals and other weapons.

One external hard drive, which hadn’t been active since December 2003, contained a title page and table of contents for “The Terrorist Handbook” and was credited to “NitroPro.” Still, it was determined that Joel had not visited any known terrorist websites on his computer.

Joel used at least three email accounts to communicate and access information. One email, used to access pornography, originated from a German internet service provider. His account with Yahoo, worthlessemailaccount@yahoo.com, held receipts for Joel’s numerous eBay transactions involving weapon paraphernalia. 

As the FBI investigated, news about the explosion and Joel’s life was becoming public. Fans in attendance claimed to have seen Joel attempting to get into the stadium through Gate 6. OU’s athletics department confirmed Joel did not purchase season pass or single-game tickets but could not say whether he had a scalped ticket. 

In the years since, more security measures have been added to sporting events across campus.

Now, fans must remove keys, phones and any metal objects larger than keys before walking through a metal detector as they enter the stadium. Aside from small clutch purses, any non-see-through bag is prohibited. 

Phil Cotten, who served as Norman’s Chief of Police for 15 years and was on the force for 38, knows well what’s involved in keeping people safe on an OU football game day. 

Recording of Phil Cotten: There’s always been a huge contingent of not only OU personnel, but they actually hire some officers from other cities to help with security. Plus a private security company that’s on the field — the guys in the yellow T-shirts that say security — and then there’s always a bunch of Norman police officers and highway patrol troopers and everybody else that’s there either in the stadium or close by.

P: Bruce Chan, the OUPD officer who served as the liaison between the OUPD and the FBI in the aftermath of Joel’s death, talked about other safety measures on game days.

Recording of Bruce Chan: The Norman Hazardous Device Unit was already on scene because we had implemented them into the game day operational plan many years before this. So we already have, you know, explosive detection people and a bomb squad to handle explosions on scene and we continue to do that.

P: But in 2005, security itself was more relaxed. 

Recording of Phil Cotten: People during those days could walk out during halftime and smoke a cigarette or go, whatever. Well, after that, that stopped that from happening. People aren’t allowed to leave at halftime unless they’ve got a medical thing or something.

P: This only made it easier for people, including OU fan Jenny Clemons, to come up with their own conclusions. Clemons was a season ticket holder and in the stadium the day of the explosion.

Recording of Jenny Clemons: He tried to get in that stadium several times and got turned away with that backpack but he came in there to blow us up.

P: As part of the 200 interviews conducted, authorities questioned security guards and gate workers.

One security guard told officers a man attempted to enter the gate with a backpack. After the guard told the individual he couldn’t enter with his backpack, the man left without saying anything. When shown a photograph of Joel, the guard said he would “not rule out” that was the man he encountered.

A separate guard working at Gate 6 said an white male around 30 years old with black hair and facial hair approached the gate with a backpack. He was denied entry without any issues.

Another person in the area said he witnessed a white male attempt to enter Gate 6 with a backpack and was denied entry. This interviewee only remembered the individual being a white male shorter than 6-foot-2. Joel was 6-foot-3. He did not recognize Joel as the man with the backpack.

Video surveillance from 4 to 8 p.m. from outside Gate 6 was analyzed. At 5:55 p.m., a male patron was shown approaching the gate wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans. After talking with a gate attendant, the individual walked away and did not enter the stadium. 

But that individual wasn’t Joel.

On the day of the explosion, Joel had on layers of long-sleeve shirts, a baseball hat and was carrying a backpack. 

Joel was not seen in any of the surveillance videos analyzed, leaving authorities to conclude he never attempted to enter the stadium.

That wasn’t the only rumor that proved to be untrue. 

Some speculated that Joel intended to hurt those inside the stadium and was tied to an Islamic terrorism conspiracy. Rumors spread that he was an Islamic militant and that his roommate, who was from Pakistan, was somehow involved.

It had just been four years since one of the largest terrorist attacks on American soil. And only 10 years since Timothy McVeigh ended the lives of 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City — just 23 miles north of OU.

The fear of terrorism came quickly and perhaps unsurprisingly for those in Oklahoma.

In July 2006, the FBI formally closed Joel Henry Hinrichs III’s case with the hope of bringing those fears to a rest. The nine-month investigation did not reveal any connections between Joel and any international or domestic terrorist groups. There were no ideological motivations or conspiracies surrounding the detonation of Joel’s homemade bomb outside Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Oct. 1, 2005.

Scooby Axson, the OU Daily reporter who covered this case from start to finish, recalls the closing of the case.

Recording of Scooby Axson: That’s the conclusion that everybody came to. So he wasn’t, you know, joining the mosque. He wasn’t, you know, joining some terror group and I don’t know if there would be a terror group in Norman, Oklahoma. Who knows, but from everything that we found, it was just like the authorities said.

Recording of Scooby Axson: So if that’s the conclusion that they came up with, we just had to go with it until we could prove it otherwise, and we couldn’t prove it. 

P: There was no evidence Joel intended to enter Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and wanted to cause harm to anyone except himself. In the end, all signs pointed to Joel Henry Hinrichs III being a deeply depressed individual who had a devoted interest in, and a history of experimenting with, explosives.  

But in Joel’s email on Sept. 22, 2005, the phrases he used were alarming and indicate he was most likely in danger of harming himself. He explained his lack of energy to go to class and attend other events. He was upfront about his well being — “I’m not doing so well. I seem to be getting worse and worse.”

Today, the university has a broader support mechanism to help flag such concerning behavior by members of the OU community.

In 2012, OU created the Behavior Intervention Team — a team with the purpose of providing proactive support for students, faculty and staff when they are worried about the well-being and safety of a friend or colleague. Its goal is to find resources that can help an individual feel better, improve academically and connect them to mental health resources.

Scott Miller, director of University Counseling Center, is also vice-chair of OU’s BIT team.

Recording of Scott Miller: So it’s a national trend that really has come out of acts of violence on campus. So it started with Columbine, Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois. So it’s the idea that folks that get to the point of wanting to do something violent on campus usually show signs of distress earlier. So colleges across the country have tried to have a safety support system to address issues at an earlier stage so that we can catch people that are having difficulties so they may not escalate to something more severe. And BITs have really become the standard on college campuses. If you don’t have a BIT, you’d have trouble defending what you’re doing to try to proactively take care of the students.

P: At OU, BIT’s members consist of a full-time case manager and individuals from the provost’s office, Housing and Food Services, Office of Admissions and Recruitment, International Student Services, Student Affairs, OUPD and OU Athletics. 

Recording of Scott Miller: The first thing we do is pay attention to what is in the report and we make an assessment of what we think is going on — mild, moderate or severe. And then we try to figure out who that student, faculty or staff connection points are, who would be the best person to reach out to the student. And there are times that we proactively may have counseling, reach out to the student directly. We may coach the faculty or staff members on how to have a conversation with the student. If it becomes moderate or severe, we’re most likely to do the reach out to folks.

P: Things to look out for in an individual include significant change in appearance, mood and/or social functioning. Any behavior that creates a hostile environment, actions that endanger the safety of themselves or other OU community members, the inability to function appropriately on campus or just a sense someone is struggling are signs that BIT should be contacted. 

Recording of Scott Miller: Folks that make threats through social media in writing, verbally, substance abuse, or aggressive behavior that may happen around that would be signs. Somebody that seems angry at a specific person, writings that they may write that suggests there may be some indication, fight or an altercation with somebody that may be provocative or a sign that something is wrong. So those are some of the things that we look for. And then we may bring the student in and have a conversation with him to figure out if there’s any risk or we need to be worried.

P: Another team created after the Virginia Tech case — in which a student killed 32 and injured 17 before killing himself — was OU’s Threat Assessment Review Committee. This committee’s purpose is to handle reports indicating someone may intend to hurt another individual or do something violent on campus. 

As new resources for mental health came into OU’s regular use, society’s view on mental health also changed.

Recording of Scott Miller: I think the stigma is less than it used to be. So for example, when we used to go to parents’ sessions or student orientations, nobody would come up and talk to the Counseling Center. Now students, parents, family members come up and speak to us about somebody they’re concerned about. And maybe they’ve been connected to treatment when they were in high school and they want to make sure they get connected. So I think students talk about mental health more. I think they’re less embarrassed about mental health issues. They see the need to get help when they have mental health issues.

P: OU offers a variety of mental health resources for students, faculty and staff. The University Counseling Center is staffed by professional psychologists, counselors and graduate students under supervision to help solve existing problems, prevent future ones and help develop skills to enhance life.

The Counseling Center offers psychological assessments, psychiatric services, group, couples and individual counseling sessions. Crisis counselors are also available for anyone in danger of hurting themselves or others, or who recently had a traumatic experience.

When an individual in the OU Scholar Program noticed Joel’s social withdrawal, slipping grades and possible depression in 2003, Joel was connected to the mental health resources OU had at the time. After two months of sessions, Joel quit going to counseling treatments and continued his decline.

Recording of Scooby Axson: It wasn’t terrorism. It was a guy that was just fed up with his life.


P: If you feel someone in the OU community is at risk of hurting themselves or others, BIT reports can be made through an online form on BIT’s website, by calling 405-325-7700 or emailing NormanBIT@ou.edu

For those in a crisis situation that is not life threatening, please call the University Counseling Center at 405-325-2911 between normal business hours and inform the receptionist you are in a crisis.

For those outside the OU community, you can talk with the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-442-HOPE or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Photo Gallery

A photo of Joel Henry Hinrichs.
Two OU student look at the new bench outside George Lynn Cross Hall in 2005. This bench replaced the one Joel detonated his bomb on. OU Daily Archive.
Norman Police Department bomb squad transports bomb equipment to Joel Henry Hinrichs apartment in 2005. OU Daily Archive.
The Joel H Hinrichs III memorial stone in the Oklahoma Memorial Union Courtyard on Aug. 11 2020. Trey Young/OU Daily.

Meet the Team

Paxson Haws

Researcher, Writer, Voice, Designer

Will Conover

Audio Editor