Five are dead after exposure to anthrax.
On Tuesday, October 16, 2001, Norma Wallace reported for work at the postal office in Trenton, New Jersey. Norma wasn’t feeling well and thought it was a mild case of the flu. But as the day wore on, she became increasingly ill. She could barely breathe.
Some 200 miles away in Washington, DC, another postal worker, Leroy Richmond, was suffering nearly identical symptoms. He too became gravely ill. In a matter of days, both Norma and Leroy were hospitalized and their conditions grew worse by the hour. They seemed to be slowly suffocating to death–and doctors couldn’t figure out why. But after administering a battery of tests, they finally came up with a diagnosis—anthrax poisoning.
Like millions of other Americans, Leroy and Norma were aware that anthrax had killed a man in Florida just days earlier. Now they were suffering from the most deadly form of the disease. Suddenly, in the wake of September 11th, the nation faced a second wave of terrorism.
The anthrax terror plot came to light on October 5, 2001, in Boca Raton, Florida. 63-year-old Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the Sun newspaper, died after he was exposed to anthrax spores. Experts believed they came from a letter that was opened. But the letter had been thrown away—its origin unknown. Suddenly, Federal investigators were thrust into the world of bio-terrorism. According to Van A. Harp, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Washington field office, it proved to be no ordinary crime scene:
The same week in Manhattan, NBC News and the New York Post received anthrax-tainted letters. But this time there was a clue—post marks on the envelopes from Trenton, New Jersey. A swarm of FBI agents checked every mailbox in town for traces of anthrax. They found none.
Then, on October 9th, 2001, in Washington DC, two more letters laced with anthrax were discovered. Once again they were postmarked Trenton, New Jersey. This time, politicians were the targets—Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy at their offices in DC. According to Dr. Meryl Nass, the letters contained a form of anthrax so pure and concentrated, it was termed “weapons grade”:
Under the right conditions, just two grams of anthrax could potentially wipe out one third of the U.S. population. Investigators came to a significant conclusion. Notes contained within the anthrax-laden envelopes had similar handwriting, leading authorities to believe they came from the same source. Did references to 9/11, “Death to Israel” and “Allah is Great” point to Arab terrorists? Or, to someone who wanted investigators to think Arab extremists were involved? Assistant Director Harp said the FBI was looking at three broad possibilities:
By October 20th, postal worker Norma Wallace was fighting for her life. Her temperature had soared above 100. She was in shock. The anthrax spores were releasing a lethal toxin, causing blood vessels to break and the bacteria to pulse through her bloodstream:
The prognosis for Leroy Richmond was also grim. Suffering excruciating pain, Leroy laid helpless as his lungs filled with fluids. Even worse was the fact that doctors knew their most powerful drugs were rarely effective in fighting this silent killer. Leroy recalled how he practically stared death in the eye:
Miraculously, both Norma and Leroy survived their harrowing ordeals. However, four other anthrax victims were not as lucky–bringing the death toll to five: in Washington, DC, Leroy’s co-workers, Thomas Morris and Joseph Curseen and in New York City, hospital worker Kathy Nyugen. Three weeks later, Ottilie Lundgren in Derby, Connecticut.
On July 27th, 2008, a government scientist named Bruce Ivins was rushed to a Maryland hospital suffering from a massive overdose of prescription drugs. He died two days later. Shortly after, the FBI announced that Dr. Ivins had been the prime suspect in the anthrax terror of 2001.
One of the country’s leading anthrax researchers, Dr. Ivins helped investigate the attacks that killed five Americans and terrorized the nation. But Ivins eventually became a suspect himself, and according to the FBI, there is no doubt that he was the anthrax killer. The case is officially closed, though a motive for Dr. Ivins’ alleged crimes has not been established.