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Norman Police: Officer Went "Above And Beyond"

POSTED: 10:05 am CDT October 6, 2005
UPDATED: 7:33 pm CDT October 6, 2005

Norman police confirmed Thursday that they ran a routine investigation of a 21-year-old University of Oklahoma student who blew himself up on campus Saturday night.

At a 2 p.m. news conference, Norman Police Department spokesman J.D. Younger said an off-duty, plainclothes officer overheard a conversation Joel Henry Hinrichs III had with the proprietor of a Norman feed store last Thursday at 4 p.m. The conversation centered on a purchase of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

"I think it's important to note that it's not a criminal activity to purchase ammonium nitrate fertilizer," Younger said.

However, he noted that the context of Hinrichs' conversation with a manager of Ellison Feed & Seed was suspicious. Younger indicated that the off-duty officer reported that Hinrichs asked about different types of fertilizer and the concentration of ammonium nitrate in each.

Ammonium nitrate was the primary ingredient in the bomb that killed 168 people in the explosion that brought down the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

The officer, according to Younger, took a mental note of the conversation and its context, and then followed Hinrichs outside. The officer took down the student's license tag number, contacted Norman's police department dispatch operation, had Hinrichs checked for outstanding warrants -- but, alas, found nothing.

The officer continued his investigation Thursday night, but could only conclude that Hinrichs was an OU student and lived in university-subsidized housing. The officer did contact a Norman bomb squad technician; however, the plan at that time was for the off-duty officer to complete a written report for submission the following Monday.

Hinrichs died when a bomb he allegedly created exploded as he sat on a bench next to the George Lynn Cross Hall, about 100 yards from Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, where about 84,000 people were watching the Sooners play Kansas State in a college football game.

When asked whether or not the officer could have done something to prevent the explosion, Younger said the off-duty officer actually went "above and beyond" the call of duty to act as he did.

"I think we're fortunate to have an employee go that far," Younger said. "We don't know what would have happened if the officer hadn't been there."

If Hinrichs had not died Saturday night, the Norman officer -- according to Younger -- would have filed the written statement, which would have eventually been submitted to federal authorities. The lead investigative agency in the Hinrichs case is the FBI; however, Younger noted the Norman police department would help as needed and requested.

"I feel confident that we're doing what needs to be done," he said.

Younger had no other comments as to other aspects of the case.

The name of the officer was not released for privacy reasons; however, Younger said that he's a veteran of the Norman police department with 11 years of experience on the force.

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