Court hearing reveals evidence in Harlingen terroristic threat case

Joel Hayden Schrimsher enters the 138th state District Court Thursday for a bond reduction and probable cause hearing. The 18-year-old Harlingen resident was arrested by police for threatening to set fire to a mosque and shoot up a synagogue.(Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

Investigators found four chemical compounds used in bomb making and white supremacist literature in the home of a Harlingen man accused of threatening to set fire to a mosque and shoot up a synagogue.

His parents, however, said their son, Joel Hayden Schrimsher, used the chemicals to make smoke bombs with his friends at a family barbecue three years ago.

The Harlingen Police Department arrested 18-year-old Joel Hayden Schrimsher on June 6 after receiving a tip from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents based in Washington D.C. about a response to a tweet threatening violence that was believed to have been authored by Joel Hayden Schrimsher.

When investigators executed a search warrant, they found aluminum powder, red iron oxide, sulfur nitrate and potassium nitrate, chemicals used in bomb making. Authorities also said they found hand-written formulas to make napalm, thermite, flash powder, nitroglycerin and smoke bombs.

The man appeared in the 138th state District Court Thursday afternoon for a bond and probable cause hearing in front of Associate Judge Louis Sorola, who ruled that the HPD had probable cause to arrest Joel Hayden Schrimsher and denied a request to lower the man’s $1 million bond.

The hearing provided more details into the allegations against Joel Hayden Schrimsher that Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz called the dawning of a new age in Cameron County after the man’s arrest.

“It’s touched us like everybody else in the U.S.,” Saenz said.

During the 2 ½-hour hearing, the Cameron County District Attorneys office provided the first glimpse of its case against the Harlingen man, who is charged with making terroristic threats and possessing components of explosives.

Harlingen Police Department Commander David Osborne testified the ATF tipped police off about Joel Hayden Schrimsher’s response to a Twitter post depicting a 7-year-old boy, who raised $22,000 to build President Donald Trump’s border wall, being run over by a car.

He’s accused of responding to that post by saying he would set fire to a mosque and shoot up a synagogue.

“We see it as a threat to the Jewish community, to the Muslim community, as a whole, in this area,” Osborne said.

The police commander said Joel Hayden Schrimsher’s mother, Melissa Schrimsher, bought the chemical compounds for her son, who made smoke bombs with his friends.

Joel Schrimsher, Joel Hayden Schrimsher’s father, also took the stand, testifying that the bags of sulfur nitrate and potassium nitrate seized by police and shown in photos during the Thursday hearing were old and used to make smoke bombs three years ago.

Those bags, however, were unopened and sealed.

Jesus Frausto, a Border Patrol intelligence agent who is a member of an FBI joint-taskforce against terrorism, testified that Joel Hayden Schrimsher told him during a 20- or 30-minute interview that he wasn’t serious about the Twitter comment.

“He said he was trying to be edgy,” Frausto said.

The agent also said authorities discovered more than 400 flagged items on Joel Hayden Schrimsher’s cellphone, including racist photos, content glorifying Nazis and even still footage of a school shooting.

“He had a lot of pro Nazi photographs and jokes and things disparaging Jews and celebrating the Holocaust,” Frausto said.

The agent said the totality of the circumstances leads authorities to believe that the man is a danger to the community and also said mixing those chemicals can be incredibly dangerous and deadly if used against anyone.

“And if he doesn’t get these mixtures right, he’s going to hurt himself and his family,” Frausto said.