An anthrax threat at LDS office building
FBI vows to prosecute every scare, real or not
Three employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were taken to the hospital as a precaution following an anthrax scare Wednesday morning.
A package with a note saying it contained the anthrax virus was discovered in the mail room in the Church Office Building about 10 a.m., according to LDS Church spokesman Dale K. Bills."The package and wording were similar to other packages distributed around the Salt Lake Valley in the last couple of weeks," Bills said. "The presumption is that, like those, this is also a hoax. Still, every precaution must be taken."
A possibly similar package was left last Wednesday at Planned Parenthood, 654 S. 900 East. But officials were not able by press time to confirm the wording on the note left in the Church Office Building, or whether it was also postmarked from Lexington, Ky., as was the one last week.
The letter was taken by the FBI to a lab at the University of Utah to determine whether trace chemicals are indeed present and if it's similar to other threats that have been mailed.
Church staff followed their standard emergency procedures when the note was found and notified the appropriate public safety and health officials. The mail room on the first lower level was "isolated and secured." While a cafeteria, lounge area, office supply store and distribution center located on the same floor were also evacuated, staffers in the rest of the building were allowed to remain "because the agent was deemed to be localizable," Bills said.
"There's no danger of wide dispersion and there has been no significant disruption to the church operations -- except to the mail room," he said. The first lower level was expected to be closed for several hours.
Officials set up a decontamination tent and treated the three employees -- two women and a man -- for possible exposure. They were then loaded in ambulances and taken to University Hosital for follow-up tests and care, if it's needed.
Similar threats are popping up almost daily around the nation, according to the Associated Press, which said the FBI is investigating each incident in the hope that federal prosecution of the culprits will halt the disruptive hoaxes.
The fake threats "have gotten publicity and scare the normal citizen. They create a fear factor," Neil J. Gallagher, FBI assistant director in charge of the national security division, said Tuesday. "They disrupt American life."
So far, all the anthrax threats have been hoaxes, but the bureau must respond seriously to every one.
"My personal fear is that someday there will be a real anthrax threat, and American society will react by saying, 'There's another hoax,' " Gallagher said.
The letters have arrived in almost every region -- often at 10 or 15 similar targets in a city. The targets have varied widely: abortion clinics, Catholic schools, nightclubs, department stores, hospitals, post offices, courthouses, news media offices, FBI offices and even the Old Executive Office Building beside the White House.
"Not a day goes by without us hearing from somewhere in the United States about an anthrax threat," Gallagher said.
"Anthrax threats have become what bomb threats once were or product tampering threats in the 1980s" after the Tylenol poisoning in Illinois, said FBI spokesman Bill Carter.
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