FOR SOME CLOSE TO THE ANTHRAX SCARE, UNWELCOME MEMORIES
26 Aug 2008
Source: New York Times, August 2, 2008.
For Some Close to the Anthrax Scare, Unwelcome Memories
The anthrax-laced letters that unleashed a second wave of dread after the Sept. 11 attacks struck what seemed to be an arbitrary and unlikely list of victims.
A hospital worker in the Bronx, a 94-year-old woman in Connecticut, a photo editor in Florida and two postal workers in the nation's capital all fell ill and died. The infant son of a producer at ABC News in Manhattan became ill but survived, as did several postal workers in New Jersey.
On Friday, many people revisited that fearful time after the news that a military scientist whom the authorities suspected of mailing the anthrax letters had killed himself. The scientist, Bruce E. Ivins, 62, apparently took his own life with a prescription painkiller as investigators prepared to file charges against him.
Those close to the people and locations contaminated by the anthrax mailings found minor solace in the possibility that the culprit had been found. Others, recalling the wrongful accusations previously levied against another scientist, stopped short of breathing a sigh of relief. For many, the developments served only as a reminder of the nation's vulnerability.
Linda Ryan, 56, a nurse, and her son, Alexander, then 5, had been in the post office in Hamilton Township, N.J., that four contaminated letters passed through. Both had been prescribed antibiotics, she said.
"I was scared for my son and for my safety," she said during a stop at the same post office on Friday. "We would come here every day to pick up our mail. After that, everything you've done is changed."
In tiny Oxford, Conn., friends and family of Ottilie W. Lundgren (case 23), the 94-year-old woman killed by anthrax spores, said the news of Dr. Ivins's death brought back a vestige of the pain they felt after she died, in November 2001.
"I think of her often, and this is going to bring a lot of it back to me," said Mrs. Lundgren's niece, Shirley Davis, 78, of Woodbury, who had been her aunt's primary caretaker. "It has been painful. But I'm hoping this does bring some closure."
The first letters containing anthrax were sent to media outlets in Manhattan and Florida. Congressional offices in Washington were next. All bore postmarks from Trenton, N.J., and had come through the Hamilton Township postal service distribution center nearby, where 30,000 pieces of mail can be processed in an hour.
The machines can whisk letters along so quickly that they are often shrouded in a fog formed by minuscule shreds of envelopes. Investigators came to believe that it was in that swirl that a tiny amount of anthrax addressed to a few locations spread to infect others.
Letters that were tainted in Hamilton are believed to have infected workers at a postal facility in Washington, D.C, and contaminated postal equipment in Manhattan.
"It was a wild time," said Raymond Canty, 54, a mail sorter at the Morgan Station center in Manhattan, where the contaminated equipment was found. "Many of us in here were afraid to come to work. For that whole week or two, it was a touch-and-go situation."
Mr. Canty said he did not accept the notion that one man was responsible for the anthrax attacks. "No person — I don't think — no one guy was behind the whole thing," he said.
His colleagues in Manhattan and in the Washington area echoed that sentiment.
"I don't believe he did it," said Mr. Hose, 65. "It's too easy to blame someone who's dead. If I were a scientist and had the ability to get poisons at Fort Detrick, I don't think I'd be using Tylenol to kill myself. I'd want to die a lot quicker."
Investigators had also linked the death from anthrax exposure of Kathy T. Nguyen, 61 (case 22), a hospital worker from the Bronx, to the Hamilton Township hub. One letter processed in the building at almost the same moment as an anthrax-laced letter addressed to Senator Patrick J. Leahy was traced to Ms. Nguyen's neighborhood.
Leonida German, 35, recalled the confusion that she and other neighbors of Ms. Nguyen's felt when they learned how she had died.
"We did not know how you could get an infection," she said. "She was so clean, like a clean freak. You had to even take off your shoes to go into her apartment. That's why we were shocked when she got the anthrax."
No one died in New Jersey, but six people fell ill with anthrax, including four workers inside the Hamilton unit, which was closed for more than three years.
Glen Gilmore, who as mayor of Hamilton Township worked with the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to provide antibiotics to local residents, said he would take no comfort if the government could prove that a single man was able to "terrorize our nation" with a tiny amount of anthrax.
"I certainly hope that this marks the conclusion of this case," said Mr. Gilmore, who left office last year. "But even if it turns out that it's true, it's no reason to lessen our vigilance."
David Giambusso, Robert Pear, Marc Santora, Nate Schweber and Paul Von Zielbauer contributed reporting.