Kenai police, FBI look into letter threat

Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2005

Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp and Lt. Kim Wannamaker were the targets of a death threat Tuesday morning as they received a letter that contained a powder and claimed it was the deadly toxin anthrax meant for the men.

Kopp said there is no connection with the name of the suspect that he or the department can think of, and said he later found out the threatening letter was received by more than just the Kenai Police Department.

"This person said he wanted to reach out and touch a number of other officers around the country. It sounded very despondent — like someone very much on the edge," Kopp said. The letter was mailed from Baltimore, Md.

Kopp called the Anchorage field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which sparked an FBI national investigation.

"We told them to check to see if other stations around the country got letters, and sure enough there were," Kopp said. "It's an obvious step to take."

FBI and Homeland Security Emergency Management team members responded to Kenai, where a presumptive test revealed the powder was not anthrax.

A press release from the Kenai police stated that upon the opening of the letter, safety measures immediately were taken.

The letter and powder were isolated and the police station was closed. Officers who might have been affected were treated medically.

Kopp said Wannamaker, who initially opened the letter, followed biohazard protocol by isolating it, taking digital photos of the substance, turning off ventilation and decontaminating all the people who may have come in contact with it.

A presumptive test involving biohazard equipment was performed on the powder that scans the substance and matches it against known samples.

"The presumptive test said it wasn't anthrax. But at 1:30 in the morning, the office of epidemiology called to confirm it was not anthrax. There is a probability it is some type of foot powder," Kopp said.

"We treated this very seriously, and I am pleased with the immediate response of the FBI to take the information and coordinate a nationwide investigation. The (hazardous materials) team with the Anchorage Fire Department came down and did a first-rate job."

Kopp said he was not frazzled by the ordeal.

"My life has been threatened before, so you just try to be very cautious and discern if people really mean to hurt you. I'm not losing any sleep over this one," he said.

Special agent Eric Gonzalez of the Anchorage field office of the FBI said the Kenai department followed containment protocol correctly.

"As the first responders, they did exactly what they needed to do in textbook style. We're real impressed with how they handled things," Gonzalez said.

The investigation will continue from Anchorage.

"Our mission now is to investigate," he said.

Mark Daly, manager of Emergency Preparedness for the U.S. Postal Service, traveled from Anchorage to speak to local postal employees upon hearing of the events. Daly said the goals of postal protocol were to protect employees and safeguard the community.

"We have protocols in place that the employees are used to responding to. They do drills once a month and have weekly operational huddles or safety talks," Daly said.

The biohazard protocol is to isolate and cover any suspected mail.

"If we can't identify what a substance is after calling the sender and receiver, then we call the postal inspection service and local first-responders."

Daly spoke to employees about new biohazard detection system that would soon be installed at the Anchorage post office by the end of May.

"It's a biohazard detection system that is attached to existing equipment. It samples the air and matches that against the DNA of anthrax and multiple other biohazard materials. These are being installed nationwide," Daly said.

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