Friends, mother of Triceten Bickford say attack was uncharacteristic



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Julie Frazier’s phone rang at about 8 p.m. Her son was in jail and needed $705 for bail. She was upset and surprised. Drinking too much and being aggressive? These things didn’t sound like Triceten. She couldn’t have imagined then, staying awake with her five dogs, that an even more upsetting call would come later in the night.

It was Oct. 18, and her youngest child, Triceten Bickford, explained to her that he had woken up on the floor of the drunk tank, he didn’t remember anything and police had told him he’d been in a fight.

Julie called the court and was read the charges:

Intimidation, public intoxication, strangulation, illegal consumption and possession of alcohol by a minor, two counts of misdemeanor battery and one count of felony-level battery.

“Oh,” she remembers thinking. “This is some kind of fight.”

She arranged for the bail money to be paid and waited.

At about 3 a.m. that same night, her phone rang again.

“Mom,” Triceten was saying through tears. “There’s an article here, and it says that I did this. That I attacked this woman, and she was a Muslim, and that I tried to strangle her and all of these things.”

Julie remembers the terror in her 19-year-old son’s voice as he stared at a mug shot he didn’t remember being taken.

“I don’t remember any of this,” he said. “This can’t be me. They’ve got the wrong person. This can’t be me.”

***

In the following days, the details of the incident unfolded. Triceten, an IU sophomore, had been drunk, with a blood alcohol content of .195. He was walking down the street at about 7:30 p.m. when he allegedly began shouting racial slurs and “white power.” He grabbed a Muslim woman around the neck and shoved her face into a table while her 9-year-old daughter watched helplessly. He threatened to kill the men who came to the woman’s rescue: her husband and a passerby. He tried to kick out the windows of the patrol car taking him to jail. He bit an officer’s calf.

All of this was documented in police reports, witness accounts and news articles. What remained unclear was why any of this had 
happened in the first place.

Triceten’s friends, Caleb Gardner and Drake White, had last seen Triceten at the tailgate. He had been drunk, they conceded, but not in a way that made them worry.

The friends who grew up with Triceton in Fort Wayne, Indiana, described him as quiet and nerdy. He loves playing games like “World of Warcraft” and “Dungeons and Dragons.” In fact, as the officers placed the cuffs around his wrists, Triceten was supposed to have been with friends, playing the role of his character in “Warhammer 40K,” a science-fantasy war game.

Before being expelled as a result of the charges, Triceten had been a psychology major. He transferred from IUPUI this fall and still hasn’t figured out his way around Bloomington. He struggles with anxiety and attention deficit disorder and his mother said he had chosen his major so he might someday help people with the same problems.

Gardner said Triceten is the friend he always turns to when he needs someone to talk to.

“You can just tell there’s no air of pretentiousness about him,” Gardner said. “Some people, you feel like they’re looking down on you when you talk about your problems. He truly cares and can always see your side of the story.”

The friends said they were shocked to learn about the attack. The Triceten in the news couldn’t possibly be the same Triceten who was one of Bernie Sanders’ most loyal supporters, the Triceten who visited art museums just for fun, the Triceten who had dated a black girl and a Filipino girl, the Triceten who had sat next to the new kid on the bus who didn’t yet have any friends.

Triceten doesn’t go out much, they said. He prefers staying in and reading, gaming or studying to maintain his straight A’s. White said Triceten is a great problem solver and loves fixing things, like the computers he builds.

He wants to fix this too, they said. He’s working on writing the victim a letter.

The friends made it clear the events of the day are sickening to them. They don’t support Triceten’s actions, they said, but they support Triceten.

***

Triceten’s initial hearing was waved by the judge. His lawyers are now preparing for the next stages of the process.

They plan on pleading not guilty, one of Triceten’s lawyers, Amelia Lahn, said.

“Even if you say, ‘Yes, I did X, Y and Z things wrong, and I’m sorry,’ you’re not going to necessarily accept every charge they charge you with,” said Lahn, who is a member of Katherine Liell’s legal team.

Lahn said they are working with medical professionals to work through the psychological issues that could have played a part in Triceten’s uncharacteristic behavior.

“He was experiencing some sort of health crisis, we just don’t know exactly what it was yet,” Lahn said.

Scientific data suggests it is unlikely the combination of alcohol and Triceten’s Adderall prescription would have led to behavior so removed from Triceten’s normal demeanor, according to Dr. Peter Finn, an IU professor with the Biobehavioral Alcohol Research Laboratory.

Adderall is a mild stimulant used to treat ADHD. When combined with alcohol, Adderall can allow the consumer to drink more than he or she would normallly be able to.

Finn explained consuming alcohol removes inhibitions, making people more talkative, happier or more sociable, depending on their personality. Some people are more aggressive, but they’re typically the people who are aggressive when they’re sober.

“There’s not data to suggest that the combination of this mild stimulant and alcohol would result in this type of behavior,” Finn said.

Dr. Nancy Stockton, the director of IU’s Counseling and Psychological Services, said it’s impossible to make statements on the psychological reasons for Triceten’s behavior without speaking to him directly. She can comment on trends though.

“I do think that our society, with the all-too-prevalent hate speech on the radio and on the web, sets a stage for people to lose control of inhibitions and lash out in ways that perhaps they wouldn’t if not for this social context,” Stockton said.

She agreed with Finn, though, that it’s unlikely this type of action was completely disconnected from Triceten’s true nature. It had to come from somewhere.

It may have come from his childhood.

Julie admitted when Triceten was very young, he was exposed to some people with racist views.

“But this made him even more against people like that,” she said.

***

Julie and Triceten’s father got a divorce when Triceten was about seven years old.

Funds were tight during the initial separation, and Julie’s birthday passed with no gifts or celebration. Mother’s Day was around the corner, though, and Triceten told her he needed $50. Though she was working two jobs at the time and barely making ends meet, she acquiesced.

Later that day, Triceten handed her a small, heart-shaped ring with a mystic topaz at its center. Julie has worn it almost every day since, not even taking it off for surgeries.

There have been many surgeries since she received the gift. Both Julie and Triceten have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare condition that allows joints to spontaneously dislocate. Though Triceten is not severely affected by the disorder, Julie has to walk slowly with a cane, barely lifting her feet off the floor.

“He’s one of my caregivers,” she said of Triceten. “It kind of makes me sad because my child helps take care of me, but I help take care of him too. We’re like two peas in a pod.”

Julie said the similarities between her and her son extend to their belief system.

She said they believe in equality. She taught Triceten and his older sister to be accepting of all races and religions.

When she thinks of the attacks, she wishes she could speak to the victim, a woman of around the same age and the same stature. She thought about visiting the scene of the crime, Sofra Café, to apologize in person. But she didn’t want to give the victim, the cafés owner, any added anxiety.

“I do plan on someday meeting her, if she feels comfortable, and letting her know that I did not raise him to be that way,” she said. “From mom to mom I wish her well and that Allah may be with her.”

***

In addition to the Monroe County charges, the Indianapolis office of the FBI has opened a hate crimes investigation against Triceten.

“The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence and will ensure that this investigation is conducted in a fair, thorough and impartial manner,” said Special Agent Wendy Osborne, the Indiana FBI spokesperson.

According to the FBI website, a hate crime is “a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Osborne said it is not necessary for the FBI to find evidence the racial bias was present before the offense occurred.

“It was not a hate crime,” Julie said. “It was not something that was directed towards the victim. He was so drunk he wouldn’t have known the difference between a hoodie and a hijab at that point.”

Because no one has reported Triceten saying anything directly referencing Muslims during the incident, Julie said she hopes police will find the attack was not triggered by the woman’s head scarf.

***

Triceten’s lawyers said they think the case will be resolved in less than a year.

Lahn said a member of Bloomington’s Muslim community has reached out to her office on behalf of the victim. The woman would like to sit down and meet with Triceten when the time is right, Lahn said.

“We were really touched that she has that amount of forgiveness and understanding after experiencing something so horrible,” she said.

Triceten’s mom has also received messages from Muslim members of the community. She said the writers want her to know that Islam isn’t the violent religion portrayed in American media.

“We know that,” Julie said. “We know that Islam is not a hateful religion. True Islam is a very loving and beautiful religion.”

***

Though the stone recently fell out of Julie’s heart ring, she still carries it with her everywhere she goes. After displaying the empty silver band, she kisses it and tucks it back into her camouflage wallet.

It’s been a hard few weeks, she said. Triceten is currently looking for a job to help pay for the mounting legal bills. Julie broke her foot. She can’t stop reading the hateful online comments directed at her child.

Even so, she’s filled with hope.

She said she hopes that Triceten will eventually understand what happened that night. That he’ll get to go back to school. That he’ll get his master’s degree and then his Ph.D. in psychology so he can help other people with brain chemistry they don’t understand. She said she hopes that the victim and her daughter are no longer fearful.

That the community will eventually forgive her son.

That her son will eventually forgive himself. 

Read more coverage of Triceten Bickford here

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