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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.