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Prince George's hazmat team searches Landover mail facility for ricin


FBI arrests Mississippi man accused of sending threatening letters containing poison to president, senator

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Photo by Jim Davis. Prince George's County hazmat team assists federal agents Wednesday at a bulk mail facility in Landover as part of the investigation into suspicious letters sent to President Obama and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker.

Photo by Jim Davis. Prince George's County hazmat team assists federal agents Wednesday at a bulk mail facility in Landover as part of the investigation into suspicious letters sent to President Obama and Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker.

Published on: Thursday, April 18, 2013

By Jim Davis

Prince George’s County hazmat team was called Wednesday morning to a federal bulk mail facility in Landover to assist federal agents investigating suspicious letters addressed to President Obama and a Mississippi senator.

The letters, discovered Tuesday, were suspected to contain a deadly poison. Test results reported Thursday confirmed that the letter addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., did contain ricin, a highly toxic, naturally occurring protein. Preliminary analysis also showed positive results for ricin in the letter to Obama. Both letters were intercepted before reaching the White House or Senate.

An FBI press release stated, “A second letter containing a granular substance that preliminarily tested positive for ricin was received at an offsite mail screening facility. The envelope, addressed to the President, was immediately quarantined by U.S. Secret Service personnel, and a coordinated investigation with the FBI was initiated. It is important to note that operations at the White House have not been affected as a result of the investigation.”

The FBI arrested Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, on Wednesday, and he faced two federal charges of threatening the president and others, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release Thursday.

Federal agents apprehended Curtis at his apartment complex in Corinth, Miss., near the Tennessee state line about 100 miles east of Memphis, FBI Special Agent in Charge Daniel McMullen said.

Both letters were sent on April 8 and were postmarked Memphis, Tenn. According to an FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by the Associated Press, the FBI reported both letters stated, “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” Both letters were signed, “I am KC and I approve this message.”

Late Wednesday night, an official from Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department told The Sentinel that the county’s hazmat team that responded to the facility in Landover conducted an extensive search and test of the facility and could not detect the poisonous ricin at the facility.

Ricin, from the castor oil plant Ricimus communis, is poisonous if inhaled, injected or ingested. A dose as small as a grain of table salt can kill an adult, authorities said.

Mail sent to the White House is screened at a remote site for the safety of the recipients and the general public, Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney said.

At a House of Representatives hearing, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said ricin alerts have occurred since the 2001 anthrax mailings, and the Post Office has procedures in place to protect employees and help track down culprits.

“Over the course of years we’ve had some situations where there have been ricin scares,” Donahoe said. “Until this date, there’s never been any actually proved that have gone through the system.”

The FBI said there was no indication of a connection between the letters and the bombing in Boston that killed three people and injured more than 170 people on Monday.

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