Blast victim was a loner

By ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer

NORMAN -- The father of a University of Oklahoma student who died in an apparent suicide explosion on Saturday said his son was a lifelong loner who "lived without any confidence that things would improve."

Officials identified the student as Joel Henry Hinrichs III, a 21-year-old junior who was majoring in engineering.

Hinrichs was killed in an explosion about 7:20 p.m. Saturday as he sat on a bench in front of George Lynn Cross Hall, the botany-microbiology building overlooking the OU campus' South Oval.

The blast could be heard in nearby Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium where about 84,000 spectators were watching the second quarter of the OU-Kansas State football game.

Hinrichs' father, Joel Hinrichs Jr., said he knew his son was troubled, but he had no idea he could have wanted to die.

"I would have been there within whatever the speed limit would allow me to be if I had any inclination that he was this unhappy," the father said from his family's home in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday night.

He said his son had trouble relating to him and everyone he came into contact with.

"He was always unsuccessful
at bonding with others," Hinrichs said of his son. "He was always very sensitive and defensive in interacting with others, to the point he didn't even know his own roommate -- even basic information about him."

The father said his son was a member of an engineering and math fraternity called "Triangle," but he recently moved out of the fraternity house because "he didn't bond, didn't relate well to the other fraternity members."

The last contact he had with his son was an e-mail offering advice about how to better socialize.

"I advised him to put himself in nonthreatening social situations with other young men and women. It was a father's heartfelt advice about how to put together a set of social skills; how to relate to other people in a way that encourages them to relate to you and in a way that makes them look forward to a relationship with you," the elder Hinrichs said.

He said his son began seeing a counselor at OU about two years ago, but didn't know whether it was for very long, despite the efforts of the counseling staff.

He described his son as very intelligent -- a National Merit Scholar who had always been fascinated by technology, electronics and chemistry.

Hinrichs said he doesn't know where his son could have acquired the cocktail of chemicals that caused the blast. But law enforcement officials said there are a variety that can be purchased on the Internet.

OU President David Boren said an investigation by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies is ongoing, but early indications suggest that Hinrichs did not intend to harm anyone else.

"Where he was, he was looking out on a very beautiful scene onto the South Oval -- a very peaceful scene," Boren said.

"He was there by himself. He was quite some distance from the stadium or any location with groups of people. It did not occur prior to the game when a large group of people might have been there -- it occurred after everyone was already in the stadium," he said.

Boren said initial reports that a second explosive device had been found were incorrect.

He said the bomb squad checked a backpack that had been found near the blast site for additional explosives, but it contained none.

Meanwhile, spectators at the football game were not allowed to leave the stadium at halftime while officials sealed off the South Oval with crime-scene tape.

Also, teams of bomb-sniffing dogs routinely used to check the stadium and its surroundings before football games were brought in after the explosion for a sweep of the stadium's concession areas and an attached parking garage.

Boren said officials tried to keep the search "as low-key as possible," and waited until the last six minutes of the game to announce that spectators would be allowed to exit only to the south and east of the stadium "because we didn't want to cause any kind of panic."

By 2 p.m. Sunday, firefighters were spraying down the area where the explosion occurred. The bench where Hinrichs had apparently been seated had been removed. All that was left were four bolts jutting out of the concrete pad where it had been secured.

Students and area residents stopped to watch as firefighters used hoses to clean the sidewalk and the side of a nearby coach bus that had been splattered with debris as workers replaced the glass in a door on George Lynn Cross Hall that had been blown out.

Kimberly Monroe, a junior architecture major, said she was in a computer lab in Gould Hall next door when the explosion happened.

"When it went off, it shook the windows. We went over to a window and all we could see was a backpack sitting on the bench. It looked like a red backpack, and half of the bench was blown off," Monroe said.

She said police officers made them stay in Gould Hall for 25 to 30 minutes, but "we were surprised because we expected them to come and see if we were OK, but that never happened. They didn't even get our names or ask us any questions."

Officials evacuated four apartment buildings early Sunday, including the Parkview Apartments where Hinrichs lived. Boren said students could be allowed to return to the apartments by Monday.

Hinrichs is survived by his father, mother, two sisters and two brothers, the father said.

Andrea Eger 581-8470

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