Richardson pastor is 14th victim of bioterror hoax

| August 9, 2010

A Richardson pastor opened his church's mail Saturday and became the 14th local victim of a bioterror hoax in the last week.

"It looked like standard business mail," said the Rev. Jay Matthews of St. Stephen's Anglican Catholic Church.

There was a sheet of paper inside the envelope, but Matthews wouldn't say if there was a message.

The envelope was letter size and addressed to the church, and it bore an unfamiliar return address. Both addresses looked computer-generated.

Thirteen similar envelopes showed up late last week at businesses, Catholic and Protestant churches, a mosque, Dallas Love Field and high-tech companies in Dallas, Arlington, Carrollton, Garland, Grand Prairie and Richardson.

Preliminary tests found the powder to be harmless in each case.

Local police and fire departments have responded in full hazardous materials mode to each call.

U.S. Postal Inspector Amanda McMurrey said last week that it was too early to say whether the incidents were connected.

Postal inspectors and FBI agents aren't saying whether they think the culprit might have been behind similar incidents over the last two years.

In June, authorities quarantined the mayor's suite at Dallas City Hall after staff opened a mailed envelope to find white powder.

In April, school officials evacuated two Garland elementary schools under similar circumstances.

In November 2009, someone sent letters containing suspicious but benign white powder with Dallas-area postmarks to five foreign missions at the U.N. in New York. All the missions represented countries with troops in Iraq.

In December 2008, the FBI's Dallas field office took the lead in a national investigation of hoax-powder letters with local postmarks that were sent to the governors of Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana , Rhode Island and Texas.

Postal inspectors said then that the postmarks indicated the letters were sent from either Dallas or "North Texas," meaning any of several ZIP codes beginning with 750 and routed through the Postal Service's plant in Coppell.

The return addresses were for FBI offices in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and El Paso, though some were outdated and incorrect, and the mailer misspelled "El Paso."

Mailed anthrax killed five people, including two postal workers, about a month after 9/11 in what President George W. Bush called a "second wave of terrorist attacks." In October 2001, someone mailed the tainted letters to newspapers and television networks and to government buildings in Washington.

The unsolved attacks sparked a national panic, with local first responders swamped with calls about suspicious packages.

Federal agents did not return calls seeking comment on the current investigation.

Asked for advice for anyone else who comes across one of the envelopes, Matthews recommended being alert to anything suspect in the addresses or the appearance of mail items and using common sense.

"If you're suspicious of something, call the police and don't open it yourself," he said.

 

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