A U.S. government scientist suspected in the 2001 anthrax attacks died July 29 in an apparent suicide after learning that federal prosecutors planned to file criminal charges against him, a government official said.

Bruce E. Ivins, 62, died at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Maryland. The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the story, said he took an overdose of prescription Tylenol with codeine. Federal prosecutors were going to seek the death penalty against him, the Associated Press reported, citing an unidentified U.S. official.

Ivins was a scientist at the U.S. biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and helped federal investigators analyze anthrax samples used in the attacks, the newspaper said. He had been notified that he was about to be charged, according to the report.

Five people were killed by anthrax spores anonymously mailed to news organizations and members of Congress in the weeks following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The attacks disrupted the U.S. mail and forced the shutdown of Senate offices after letters were delivered to two lawmakers. Television news anchors Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather were also targeted.

In June, the U.S. agreed to pay a settlement valued at $5.8 million to resolve a lawsuit by another Fort Detrick researcher, Steven Hatfill, who claimed the government improperly identified him as the main suspect.

Deb Weierman, a spokeswoman in the FBI's Washington field office, said today in an interview that the investigation into the anthrax attacks is "still a pending matter." She declined to comment on the reports about Ivins.

More Than 35 Years

Caree Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, said the agency "mourns the loss of Dr. Bruce Ivins, who served the institute for more than 35 years as a civilian microbiologist."

Ivins's death was announced yesterday in an obituary in the Frederick News-Post. The obituary didn't specify the cause of death.

Keith Roberson, owner of a Frederick, Maryland, funeral home that is handling the arrangements for Ivins's funeral, confirmed that the scientist died on July 29 at Frederick Memorial Hospital. Roberson said he had no information on the cause of death.

Ivins, whose identity as a suspect hadn't been disclosed publicly, became depressed after the Hatfill settlement was announced and had told a therapist he was considering suicide, the Times said, citing an unidentified colleague.

Ivins was married to Diane Ivins for 33 years, and they had a son and daughter, according to the News-Post obituary. A memorial service was scheduled for Aug. 9 in Frederick.