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Powder scares at 2 LDS temples, Catholic plant

No evidence to link threats to Prop. 8 opponents, FBI says

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 2:39 p.m. MDT

Firefighters enter Temple Square in Salt Lake Thursday. Two temples and a Catholic fraternity received envelopes containing powder. (Courtney Sargent, Deseret News) Firefighters enter Temple Square in Salt Lake Thursday. Two temples and a Catholic fraternity received envelopes containing powder. (Courtney Sargent, Deseret News)
Envelopes containing a suspicious white powder were mailed to two LDS temples and a Catholic fraternity, prompting a hazardous materials response and a federal investigation into who is behind it.
The white powder scares were reported Thursday at Salt Lake City's Temple Square, the LDS Church's temple in Los Angeles and at a printing plant belonging to the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, Conn.
"Our mailroom employees discovered an envelope that had been mailed to us from California shortly before noon," Pat Korten, vice president of communications for the Knights of Columbus, told the Deseret News late Thursday. "When they opened it some white powder escaped."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Knights of Columbus are both major backers of the controversial Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California. However, the FBI cautioned late Thursday there is no evidence to link the threats to Prop. 8 opponents.
"We've got to follow the evidence and at this point we have not received anything that would lead us to believe the opponents of Prop. 8 are behind any kind of terroristic activity," FBI Special Agent Juan Becerra said from the agency's Salt Lake City office. "It would be irresponsible to say that at this point."
LDS Church security officials called Salt Lake police and firefighters about 4 p.m. Thursday when an employee in the recorder's office inside the Salt Lake Temple annex opened a manila envelope.
"When the employee opened it up and looked inside it, there was actually another white envelope inside that had a white powdery substance in it," Salt Lake Fire spokesman Scott Freitag said.
The employee who opened it immediately set the envelope down and called church security officials, who came over wearing a respirator and plastic gloves. They sealed the envelope inside a plastic bag, Freitag said.
Three employees in the room at the time were quarantined. Security denied access to the room and shut off the air vents.
"They are not complaining of any injury or illness," Freitag said, adding that they did not have to undergo a decontamination process.
Hazardous materials teams sanitized the substance to ensure it was not a biological agent like anthrax.
On the Main Street plaza, missionaries and other church employees were allowed to come and go. A lone LDS security official stood behind the temple gates. He opened the gate for firefighters, then closed and locked it behind them.
A pair of FBI agents left Temple Square with the envelope in a black plastic bag. The envelope was taken to a lab to be tested.
"We are working to find out what it is and hopefully it's harmless," Becerra told the Deseret News.
Firefighters said they did not see anything of a threatening nature with the envelope.
Because the annex is a separate building, the temple itself was not evacuated. However, church security did not allow anyone to come or go while hazmat teams were there. A portion of North Temple was also closed to traffic.
"At first, we thought it was maybe picketing again," said Poulsen Udall, who was inside the temple at the time.
He was referring to mass protests outside Temple Square last week against the LDS Church's backing of Prop. 8. Similar demonstrations were held outside LDS temples in California and New York.
"It's a sad thing that all of this is going on," said Udall's wife, Pauline.
At the LDS Church's temple in Westwood, Calif., the grounds were closed Thursday afternoon after an employee there opened an envelope similar to the one at church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
"They received an envelope with a suspicious white powdery substance," Los Angeles police officer Karen Smith told the Deseret News. "It's been cleared and there was no hazardous material."
In New Haven, Conn., workers at a printing plant for the Knights of Columbus opened the envelope containing white powder. Hazardous materials teams responded, Korten said, and took it to a lab to be tested.
"We do not yet know what was in that envelope," he said.
The Knights of Columbus did not know if it had been targeted over Prop. 8.<
"We've got a great deal of pretty vulgar communication from people who are not happy with our role to help pass Prop. 8," Korten said. "Whether this has any connection or not, we don't know."
The LDS Church declined to speculate on whether Prop. 8 had a role in the hazardous materials scares.
"We're working with local law enforcement and the FBI," church spokesman Scott Trotter said.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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