Scientist in anthrax probe commits suicide
This undated photo provided by the Frederick News Post shows Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, a a biodefense researcher at Fort Detrick, Md. Ivins, the scientist who was developing a vaccine to combat anthrax, died Tuesday July 29, 2008, in an apparent suicide in a hospital in in Frederick, Md. U.S. prosecutors investigating the 2001 anthrax attacks were planning to indict and seek the death penalty for Ivins in connection with mailings of the deadly anthrax toxin that killed five people.
(AP Photo/Frederick News Post)
Official: US Wanted Death Penalty in Anthrax Case
Official: Justice Planned to Seek Death Penalty Against Army Scientist in 2001 Anthrax Attacks
By MATT APUZZO and DAVID DISHNEAU
Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON August 1, 2008 (AP) The Associated Press
Investigators may have determined who was behind the 2001 attacks.A top U.S. biodefense researcher apparently committed suicide this week as prosecutors prepared to seek indictment and the death penalty against him for the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks, a U.S. official said Friday.
The scientist, Bruce E. Ivins, was a leading military anthrax researcher who worked for the past 18 years at the government's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick, Md.
A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing grand jury investigation, said prosecutors were closing in on Ivins, 62. They were planning an indictment that would have sought the death penalty for the attacks, which killed five people, crippled the postal system and traumatized the nation in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland. The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the investigation, said the scientist had taken a massive dose of a prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine. A woman who answered the phone at Bruce Ivins' home in Frederick declined to comment.
Bin Laden, Hoffa, Anthrax: FBI's UnsolvedCheney Thought Himself an Anthrax VictimEXCLUSIVE: How FBI Botched Anthrax CaseTom Ivins, a brother of the scientist, told The Associated Press that his other brother, Charles, had told him that Bruce committed suicide and Tylenol might have been involved.
Tom Ivins said Friday that federal officials working on the anthrax case questioned him about his brother a year and a half ago. "They said they were investigating him," he said from Ohio, where he lives, in a CNN interview.
The Fort Detrick laboratory and its specialized scientists for years have been at the center of the FBI's investigation. In late June, the government exonerated a colleague of Ivins, Steven Hatfill. Hatfill's name has for years had been associated with the attacks after investigators named him a "person of interest" in 2002.
The government paid Hatfill $5.82 million to settle a lawsuit contending he was falsely accused and had been made a scapegoat for the crimes.
"We are not at this time making any official statements or comments regarding this situation," said Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office, which is investigating the anthrax attacks, said Friday.
After suicide, feds consider closing anthrax case By LARA JAKES JORDAN and MATT APUZZO, Associated Press Writers
22 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - The chief suspect in the anthrax attacks now dead, the Justice Department is expected to decide in the days ahead whether to close what had been one of its most publicized unsolved cases.
Five people died and several others were hospitalized when anthrax-laced letters began showing up at congressional offices, newsrooms and post offices soon after Sept. 11, 2001.
The bioterrorism attacks confounded investigators. Perhaps there was an al-Qaida link. FBI profilers said they probably were looking for a loner with a scientific background. Maybe he had a grudge against the lawmakers and news organizations.
Intensive focus turned on Army scientist Steven Hatfill. For years, he accused the government of unfairly targeting him; in late June, the government exonerated Hatfill and paid him a $5.82 million settlement.
With that, the government seemed no closer to solving the "Amerithrax" mystery. But, quietly, investigators were closing in on a different scientist, Bruce E. Ivins.
A murder indictment and the possibility of the death penalty would have produced a high-profile climax to the case. Shadowed by the FBI, Ivins died Tuesday from a Tylenol overdose, leaving the probe in limbo and a nation seeking answers.
"It's a shame the man is not here with us. We might have known more," said Maureen Stevens, whose husband, Bob, was the first anthrax victim.
The Justice Department has said it expects to offer more details soon. Investigative documents are under seal. If authorities close the case, those documents might become public. Survivors of the attacks and families of the victims probably would get updates from the government.
"I think the FBI owes us a complete accounting of their investigation and ought to be able to tell us at some point, how we're going to bring this to closure," said former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, whose office received a letter containing the deadly white powder in 2001.
David R. Franz, a former commander of the Army's biological warfare labs at Fort Detrick, Md., where Ivins worked, said Saturday he thought it was "very important that the FBI present their case against Bruce and not just state that the investigation was over because it was him and he's gone."
Franz added, "I'm concerned about what closing this case without conclusive evidence might do to harm our life sciences enterprise. ... I think we as Americans need to see the proof."
Among the unanswered questions is why the anthrax was sent. The FBI was investigating whether Ivins, renowned for his work developing anthrax vaccines and treatment, released the toxin to test those cures. Ivins was one of several scientists named in an application for a vaccine patent 18 months before the attacks.
Another puzzle is what finally led the FBI to focus on Ivins a year or so ago. Ivins attracted some attention for conducting unauthorized anthrax testing in the six months following the anthrax mailings, but the FBI focus stayed on Hatfill.
The department attributed the progress to "new and sophisticated scientific tools."
Investigators said the science focused, in part, on how the anthrax strains were handled and who had access to it at the time of the mailings. Had the same process been used years ago, it would have cleared Hatfill, according to two people familiar with the FBI investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is not officially closed.
As Ivins' name emerged, so did a portrait of a conflicted, troubled man. His friends knew him as the man who played the keyboard at church, a Red Cross volunteer who was an avid juggler and gardener.
Others saw a darker side. Police recently removed him from work, fearing he was a danger to himself or others. Social worker Jean C. Duley filed for a restraining order in a Maryland court.
"Client has a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, plans and actions towards therapists," Duley wrote in court documents last week, adding that his psychiatrist had described him as homicidal and sociopathic.
Ivins' brother, Tom Ivins, said he had not spoken to Bruce Ivins since 1985, but acknowledged the possibility his brother may have been the anthrax mailer.
"It makes sense, what the social worker said," Tom Ivins said. "He considered himself like a god."
Ivins' lawyer, Paul F. Kemp, asserted the scientist's innocence and said he would have proved it at trial. Kemp said his client's death was the result of the government's "relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo."
Maryland's chief medical examiner, Dr. David Fowler, confirmed Saturday that Ivins died Tuesday morning at Frederick, Md., Memorial Hospital; that the cause of death was found to be an overdose of acetaminophen, the active drug in Tylenol; and that it was ruled a suicide based on information from police and doctors.
Associated Press writers David Dishneau and Chrissie Thompson in Frederick, Md., Ben Nuckols in Baltimore, John Pain in Miami, AP researchers Susan James and Jennifer Farrar in New York and AP Television contributed to this report.
Scientist in anthrax probe commits
Fri Aug 1, 1:45 PM ET Previous 14 of 26 Next In this Nov. 30, 2001 file photo, a decontamination crew dressed in hazmat suits stands together as an investigator takes photographs outside Ottilie Lundgren's home in Oxford, Conn., after the house was declared a crime scene. Federal and state officials returned to the home to conduct a more thorough examination. Lundgren, 94, died of inhalation anthrax on Nov. 21. Federal prosecutors were planning to indict a government scientist in connection with the anthrax deaths, but the man, Bruce E. Ivins, 62, apparently committed suicide. He died July 29, 2008.
(AP Photo/Steve Miller, File)