WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Victims of the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks said Thursday they are satisfied with the investigation's outcome that pinned the blame on an Army scientist. And now, the widow of a dead photo editor says, it's time for the government to settle her lawsuit and pay up.
Victims and family members were briefed by the FBI on Wednesday, about a week after scientist Bruce Ivins committed suicide before he could be charged.
"This investigation, as far as I'm concerned, is closed," Maureen Stevens said Thursday during a news conference. Stevens' husband, Robert, was a photo editor at the Sun, a supermarket tabloid published by American Media Inc., who died after inhaling anthrax mailed to AMI's headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla.
Stevens died Oct. 5, 2001, the first of five people to be killed and 17 others to be sickened in the attacks.
"I would hope now they (the FBI) can see they were in the wrong and we've been right from the beginning," Maureen Stevens said. "I hope they will stand there and admit it was their fault and make some kind of settlement."
Stevens filed a $50 million lawsuit against the government two years after her husband's death. She claims the government was negligent because it failed to safeguard strains of the deadly anthrax bacteria at the U.S. Army disease research center at Fort Detrick, Md.
"One of the people that worked at the laboratory told me they had better security at a 7-Eleven than they did at the ... laboratory where they had the most dangerous substances known to mankind," said Stevens' attorney, Richard Schuler.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit. Federal attorneys have fought to get the Stevens claim dismissed and currently are appealing a federal judge's refusal to do so. The case is on hold pending the appeal's outcome.
The FBI on Wednesday declared the case solved, citing advanced DNA testing that Ivins had in his laboratory anthrax spores identical to those used in the attacks.
The scientist's odd behavior, curious mental state, suspicious e-mails and unusual work hours also convinced them they had the right man.
The Justice Department said it was confident it could have convicted Ivins, who spent his career developing anthrax vaccines and cures at the Maryland biodefense lab.
They said he was angry about criticism of his anthrax vaccine and might have released the toxin to drum up support for his drug.
Stevens said she was shocked the government allowed Ivins to continue working at the lab.
"I really don't understand it," she said. "He was not just a little bit weird. I mean, he was certifiable."
Still, not everyone is convinced the case is closed. Ivins' attorney, Paul F. Kemp, has questioned the evidence, noting it only made "a good case for continuing the investigation."
"I just don't think he did it," Kemp has said.
Patrick O'Donnell, a postal sorter who was sickened by one of the contaminated anthrax letters, said he believes the government's case against Ivins is solid even though it took him by surprise.
"I always thought it was al-Qaida or something like that," said O'Donnell, who lives in Falls Township, Pa., and still works at the same New Jersey postal center.
"It's so hard going in there every day," he said. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about this thing."
O'Donnell said he never believed the culprit was Steven Hatfill, another scientist initially targeted in the investigation. The government eventually agreed to pay Hatfill $5.8 million after naming him as a person of interest.
Mark Cunningham, a New York Post op-ed editor, one of three staffers there who were sickened by an anthrax-tainted letter, said he also was convinced about the government's case against Ivins.
"The case is circumstantial but compelling," Cunningham wrote in a column published on the paper's Web site Thursday. "I'm glad they're keeping the case open, to tie up loose ends, make absolutely certain he acted alone, and all the rest. But I have my closure."
For Stevens, identifying the suspect has only brought partial closure. The question that will always haunt her is why.
"I would have preferred to have him tried and found guilty and found out why," she said. "That's what I've always wanted to know all along.
"It's been seven years and it's been really hell at times," she said.
Stevens, choking back tears, said her husband's photographs still adorn the walls of her home.
"His voice is still on my answering machine," she said, her voice crackling.