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Episode 16 - Do This Shit At Your Mom's House!


Not all heroes wear capes

Boy Scout, Jake Friebel holding his Heroism Award
Jake Friebel with his Heroism Award

I figured in the spirit of celebrating the Boy Scouts, and you having been a Boy Scout and how much Scouts, in general, are tied in with your family - I would do a matching theme. This week I will not be talking about murder and blood and death. This week I will be talking about an outstanding boy scout, a hero even.

In the summer of June 2020, 13-year-old Jake Friebel was on a family trip at Johnson’s Shut-Ins, which is a state park in Missouri. Jake was a Boy Scout with Troop 535. He said he was inspired to become a scout by his grandfather. He had joined the Cub Scouts first, and then when he entered the fifth grade, he became a Boy Scout.

Jake had gone swimming on the East Fork of the Black River. He swam where the current flows around rock formations that created a beautiful water park of natural water slides, chutes and pools. This is the type of place that numerous people would flock to for a fun in the sun.

After Jake went down one of the rock slides, he dropped into a deep pool. He hooked onto a rock along the edge and held on until his family was able to catch up to him. He made sure to avoid the whirlpools in the center that were caused by two waterfalls that emptied into the pool he was currently in.

Jake said, “As my mom was about to go through, this girl about 16 or 17 cut her off, and went down the slide. She made it all the way down the waterfall, but while she was going through that whirlpool, she stopped and turned around to see where her friend was. We were screaming at her to keep swimming away from the whirlpool.”

Within the next 5 minutes, Jake would become a certified hero.

Unfortunately, the current would start to pull her under, causing her to panic and be pushed even further down. Jake was close enough to her that he was able to blindly reach down underwater and pull her up. He grabbed her and hauled her over the rock he was hanging onto. The girl was in shock and accidentally let go, causing her to go through the whirlpool all over again. Jake said, “I could barely see her hands when I grabbed her and pulled her back up a second time. I assume she was around two to two and a half feet underwater when I pulled her out.”

Jake sprang into action, this time, he swam her through the current until they both reached safety on the other side of the pool and she was able to climb out. She was rattled and left quickly with her friend, so Jake and his family never had the chance to talk to her. Jake’s mom Jennifer said “Jake didn’t think it was any big deal, he thinks anyone would do it. He is extremely modest about it. I was in awe of Jake when I saw him grab the girl. Then she went under and he had to go under to grab her, I was just shocked. So many emotions came over me I was so proud. His dad and I, along with the other families, were going on and on about how amazing that was. To this day, he still thinks everyone makes a huge deal over it for nothing because he says ‘what else would I have done, watch her drown?’ He doesn’t think it was a big at all that he reacted in such a great way to save her, he thinks it’s natural instinct for anyone.”

When asked how he knew she needed help, Jake stated “I figured she was drowning, as the first time I could tell she was flailing around underwater, and when she came up she coughed up a bit of water. The second time, I knew she was already tired so it was obvious. I wasn’t really thinking when it happened, it felt like an instinct, where you don’t think, you just do it.”

Jake didn’t think of himself as a hero. However, he told the story to his scoutmaster, and he said that he thought Jake would be eligible for the Medal of Merit, which is an award for Scouts who have performed an act of meritorious service that is above and beyond what is typically expected of a scout. Upon learning that, the Friebel family filled out the proper paperwork and submitted it.

Mom, Jennifer Friebel said that they didn’t hear anything back until the Greater St. Louis Area Council of Boy Scouts gave them the exciting news that Jake’s application had been approved! It then got passed on to the National Court of Honor, and they made the decision that the Medal of Merit wasn’t nearly enough. They also wanted Jake to have the Heroism Award.

The Heroism Award is a rare honor. Since 1923, only 6,077 Heroism Awards have been given out. The Greater St. Louis Area Council is the third-largest council in the country and had not presented that award in more than nine years.

When the Friebel’s heard the news, Jen (mom) said she was “shocked and super proud. I was super proud of him that day too. There were a bunch of people around he he was the only one who did something.”

Jake was presented the Heroism Award during an Order of the Arrow Conclave weekend at a Boy Scout Reservation on April 10th in 2021.

Jose Sadewasser, CEO of the Greater St. Louis Area Council said “This is the exact type of behavior we want our Scouts to be prepared for, but hope they never have to use.” in a shared congratulations to Jake and another scout who received a Medal of Merit as well. He said their actions were “worthy of the Medal of Merit, and much more, and we are proud of their life-saving actions.” He also said “Something that Scouting really works to impress on our young people is the importance of looking out for one another. Our Scouts are taught to help each other without expecting any reward, and this kind of behavior is exactly that. In the Scout Oath and Law, we set goals for how these young people work to be loyal to each other and be brave in the face of difficult situations, and Jake embodied this Oath.”

Even though he said he felt proud to receive such a high honor, Jake’s Boy Scouts journey didn’t end there. The next goal he set for himself was to obtain the requirements needed to become an Eagle Scout.

Jake said of himself “I feel proud to know that I saved a human life, but it feels a little weird to go from being an everyday student living an average life to having everyone who hears about what happened coming up and congratulating you.”

If Jake got the chance to talk to the girl he saved that summer, there is only one thing he’d say. “I’d just ask if she’s alright.”

Jake never learned her name, he didn’t know anything about her, but he sprang into action and saved her life that day. I say he saved more than one life that day, he also saved everyone around him from being first-hand witnesses to a drowning.

Way to be a good human, Jake. On the off chance you ever happen to hear this, I hope you made Eagle Scout, and continue to do amazing things in your lifetime.

I am sure you have all heard the saying that “Not all heroes wear capes”. Well, in this case, it’s true, the hero was wearing swim shorts.



The Radioactive Boy Scout

David Hahn, Nuclear Boy Scout
David Hahn, The Radioactive Boy Scout

The rank of Eagle is sought after by many boys that start their journey in scouting after hearing tales of presidents, astronauts, and their favorite pro athlete becoming one themselves. Most start as a Tiger cub in kindergarten working their way through cub scouts into boy scouts themselves. Since 1912 only 2 million scouts would put in the time and dedication to achieve this rank. Even though it was originally conceived as Wolf scout that this would be more fitting for David Hahn as the things he would do become known as the radioactive boy scout.

David Hahn was born on Oct.30, 1976, in Royal Oak, Mi. His parents Ken and Patty were both engineers for a lesser-known auto manufacturer named General Motors. His parents would divorce when David was a toddler and often described as just like any other boy. Out riding bikes, playing soccer and baseball, and joining the boy scouts as well. All this would change when he received on his 10th birthday from his grandfather “The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments.” I thought this was simple home experiments like using lemon juice to write secret messages or your baking soda volcano. No, this book gives you step-by-step instructions on setting up a laboratory with actual beakers and Bunsen burners and so on for these experiments and pretty much how to make chlorine gas like that was used in WW1. This version that David got was only available for 10 years before it was revised removing the experiments that needed the dangerous elements and chemicals.

By the age of 12, he is reading college-level chemistry books and setting up a lab in his bedroom at his dad’s house. After multiple chemical spills and explosions, his dad would tell him to move his lab into the basement of the house as he was getting really tired of replacing the flooring and drywall from all of his accidents.

At 14 when most of us were playing video games and chasing the opposite sex, David was in his father’s basement making nitroglycerin. For those who might not know, nitroglycerin is a main ingredient for dynamite and is more commonly used to ease cardiac pain today.

One of David’s goals was to own every element on the periodic table according to his physics teacher from high school. Even during this time, his boy scout troop wasn’t safe from David. There were times he would show up discolored from his experiments as he showed up to one scout meeting with his face a shade of orange from using Canthaxanthin, which is used in food coloring and treating photosensitivity disorders. One year at summer camp he would end up blowing a hole in the side of a tent by accidentally igniting powdered magnesium he brought with him to make fireworks.

Up to this point, he was making fireworks and moonshine, but his father and stepmother were convinced he was making and selling drugs like he was a high school, Walter White. So, they would start to spot-check the local library to see if he was there and of course, they would be surrounded by books on chemistry. They would go as far as locking him out of the house anytime they had to leave be it when they went to work or on a quick errand as they were afraid, he might level the house if they left him alone. They would set a time they would come back home to let him in and continue on with his experiments. His stepmother would do routine searches of his room and dispose of any chemicals and equipment she would find hidden in his closet.

One night David is pounding away on red phosphate, which is used in match heads, in the basement with a screwdriver and it explodes. He would be found by his dad and his stepmom would find Davidd semiconscious on the floor and his eyebrows smoking and would rush him to the hospital to get the glass removed from his eyes and hands. For several months later after this incident he would have to visit an ophthalmologist to have pieces of plastic removed from his eyes. You would think this is where they would finally draw the line with the antics as somewhat of a mad scientist, he would just move his lab to his mother’s potting shed in commerce twp. mi.

He would spend countless hours in this shed but his mother and her boyfriend never gave a second thought even though he would be seen wearing a gas mask at times and disposing of his clothes before coming in at 2 am. out there with his track record at his dad’s. They were just in awe of his dedication and work ethic toward his experiments. Even though his mothers' boyfriend did ask what he was doing, David replied “one day we are going to run out of oil.”

While being a member of troop 376 his father felt he needed to use his work ethic towards his science experiments towards earning his rank of Eagle, which is the highest rank in the Boy Scouts a boy can earn. To earn this rank, you have to acquire 21 merit badges and some of those are chosen by the scout themself. So being a man of science David would choose the elective badge, atomic energy. One of the requirements to earn this badge is to build a model of a nuclear reactor and explain how it works. David would earn this badge just before his 15th birthday but wants to build a functional reactor.

To understand what David was trying to do in his mother's potting shed first we need to understand how nuclear power works. There is a whole lot of science behind this, and I know your eyes are going to glaze over like fresh donuts if I try and explain it that way. So, I’m going to put this in a way you and the listeners can understand better.

So, think of it like a steam engine:

  1. the uranium or plutonium that would be split in nuclear fission would be the coal used to create the fire in the firebox.

  2. The fire or the split atoms generate heat that creates steam from the water being heated.

  3. The steam that is used to push the pistons in the front of the engine but in this case would cause a turbine to rotate and create electricity.

  4. The water is cooled down and cycled back through the reactor to be reheated.

There is a lot more with control rods and such, but I want to

What David Hahn was trying to create was a nuclear reactor that would create its own fuel known as a breeder reactor. Where breeder reactors differ is they create their own fuel essentially making them self-sufficient. A handful of these breeder-type reactors were built but either didn't have a large enough energy output to be efficient or had partial meltdowns.

David would pretend to be a college professor making phone calls and writing letters to multiple agencies the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the American Nuclear Society, the Edison Electric Institute, and the atomic industrial forum, and nobody checked his identity. A representative from the NRC would walk him through the steps on how to obtain and isolate the radioactive materials he needed.

David said in an interview “the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave me all the information I needed. All I had to do was go out and get the materials.” You would think the materials needed to make a nuclear reactor would be hard to get but, they really aren’t as he found out where to find these items from older boy scout merit badge books, he found these elements in household items. He needed four materials: americium, thorium, tritium, and radium. Small parts of these radioactive elements he needed could be found in smoke detectors, antique clocks, mantles from camping lanterns, and gunsights.

In pursuing these materials, David still acting as a college professor called up a smoke detector company and claimed he needed 100 smoke detectors as Americium is used in them. This company agreed and told him exactly where to find it. Nobody questioned why he needed this many and didn’t check to see who he was. He would also “collect” or hard borrow smoke detectors from a nearby girl scout camp and would be sent home.

Some of the other ways he gathered these materials was going to antique stores with his Geiger counter and buying anything that had these elements in it. One of the sources stated one of the radium-painted clocks actually had a vial of the paint behind it when he was taking it apart and he would later go back to that same store he bought it from and told the owner he would pay whatever they wanted for those type of clocks when they got them.

He would obtain straight-up uranium from Czechoslovakia which he ordered over the phone once again posing as a college professor doing nuclear research.

From a lead block, he would create what's called a neutron gun to create the fast-moving neutrons he would need to achieve nuclear fission. David bored a small hole in a lead block and purify the thorium ash to make it turn into uranium from burning the lantern mantles with a Bunsen burner and refined it using the lithium batteries he bought. He had to buy a thousand dollars worth of batteries to do this. David’s purified thorium would be at least 9k times than the levels found in nature and 170 times higher which requires licensing from the NRC.

By the age of 17 David Hahn would start to assemble his reactor after collecting all the materials finally and help from the NCR not knowing he was only a kid. From blocks of aluminum foil filled with thorium ash and uranium powder in an alternating pattern with blocks filled with carbon in between. That surrounded an aluminum ball filled with radium and americium and this would be the core of David’s reactor. He held this entire thing together with the strongest substance known to man, duct tape.

After all the trial-and-error David finally did get his breeder reactor to work and suddenly became concerned about his neighbors with his Geiger counter in hand, he would find radiation levels five houses away from the shed. In a panic, he quickly dismantles his reactor and places the pieces of it in the back of his Pontiac 6000 at 2 in the morning on August 31. No big deal right nobody saw him do this and he is in the clear right? No, one of his neighbors calls the police tells them it looks like a young man is trying to steal tires which came up in different sources David did have a run-in with the law in the past for doing this. When the police arrived, they ask David what he is doing, and he tells them he is waiting for a friend. The responding officer wasn’t convinced of this and searches David’s car where he finds the various parts of his reactor:

Over 55 aluminum cubes

Small disks and cylindrical metal objects

Lantern mantels

Mercury switches

A clock face


Vacuum tubes

Assorted chemicals and acid

And a locked toolbox covered in duct tape

Seeing all this police were alarmed that David was making a bomb and David would warn that the toolbox was radioactive which now the police think he is making a dirty atomic bomb. The MSP bomb squad was called in along with the dept of health to assist with the radioactive materials. The levels of radioactivity in the trunk of David’s Pontiac were high enough to Reeral Radiological Emergency Response plans.

Now David dismantled this in August it wouldn't be until Thanksgiving that year that they would finally be able to interview David about what he was doing and he finally admitted to having the lab in his mother’s potting shed. He told Dave Minnarr of the DPH of Michigan he was trying to produce energy from thorium and hoped his successes would earn him Eagle scout. Even though his scoutmaster tried to block David from earning his rank of Eagle but was unsuccessful.

November 29, state radiological experts would survey the potting shed in the backyard where they would find pyrex cups, milk crates, jars of acid, and other various materials scattered around from David’s experiments. They would test a vegetable can that was found in the shed and its level of radiation was 1,000 times higher than what you would find in naturally occurring radiation we are exposed to daily which is 1.5-3.5 millisieverts a year. These levels would be much higher if David’s stepmother didn’t throw away everything after his lab was discovered.

In a panic, David’s Mother would throw away everything and David would go on to say “they only got the garbage, and the garbage got all the good stuff.”

Their neighbor Dottie Pease would go on to say “I was pretty disturbed when I turned onto Pinto Drive and saw men in what looked like moon suits. I was pretty disturbed really. I went inside and called out to my husband. Da-a-ve , there are men in funny suits walking around out here you gotta do something.”

These men in funny suits were actually the EPA, In June of 1995, the EPA showed up and declared the shed a superfund site and cost 60k dollars (115,218.50 in 2023) to clean up. Dismantling the shed and hauling it away to Utah in 39 barrels labeled radioactive. I tried to find out if the house is still standing or an empty lot now using google street view and satellite nothing really stuck out to me for any subdivision but interesting enough though, an environmental cleaning company is located one street over. David was never actually charged with anything as a teen but he actually wasn’t. Even though it was estimated he put 40k residents at risk.

Now you think this is where you think David would go on to attend college for metallurgy but dropped out and joins the Navy and is stationed on USS enterprise which happens to be a nuclear class aircraft carrier as a communications specialist. After his time in the Navy, he would enlist in the Marine Corps and is honorably discharged from there.

In 2006 David is arrested for smoke detector larceny as he was caught stealing smoke detectors again as they believe he was trying to attempt once again to make another breeder reactor.

The rumors on the internet originally David Hahn died from radiation poisoning which is not the case as the levels he was exposed to in the confines of the shed were low and he believed he only took about five years of his life. David struggled with mental health issues and drugs as an adult and died on Sept 27, 2016, from an interaction of alcohol, diphenhydramine, and fentanyl.

David Hahn is buried in Great Lakes National Cemetery in section 13 in Holly, MI.

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