Test results due in ricin scare; Mississippi entertainer arrested
POSTED: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 12:00pm
UPDATED: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 12:04pm
NATIONAL NEWS (CNN) — The man suspected of sending ricin-laden letters to President Barack Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi is an entertainer, a Mississippi newspaper reported Thursday.
The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi, posted photographs of a man it identified as Paul Kevin Curtis. In one photograph, he is shown under an "Elvis" sign holding a microphone as he appears to be singing. He is wearing a white suit and sporting long sideburns and swept-back hair.
A Kevin Curtis Live Facebook page describes him a "Master of Impressions performing 'Tribute to the Stars' for audiences of all ages!"
The FBI arrested Curtis on Wednesday in connection with the case at his home in Corinth, Mississippi, the Justice Department said in a statement. Test results were expected later Thursday on the contents of envelopes, which may have been contaminated with the deadly poison.
The letters, which were discovered on Tuesday, were addressed to Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, and to Obama. A third letter was sent to a Mississippi justice official, the Justice Department said.
On Thursday, the Navy evacuated all 800 people from a naval support facility in Arlington, Virginia, after an envelope containing a white powder was delivered to the mail processing facility there, a Navy spokesman said.
But initial testing indicated that the substance was not poisonous, said the spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Perry.
The letters to Wicker and Obama were stopped at a government mail screening facility after initial tests indicated the presence of ricin.
Because initial tests can be "inconsistent," the envelopes were sent off for additional tests, an FBI statement said.
The letters read: "To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance."
They were signed "I am KC and I approve this message," a source said.
Letters put focus on Texas chiropractor's words
The line in the letters about exposing "a wrong" comes from John Raymond Baker, a longtime Texas chiropractor, his wife said. It's been widely quoted online, but Tammy Baker sounded surprised that it was used in the letters under scrutiny in Washington.
When contacted by CNN, she said that she was not aware of the letters and that the phrase refers to her husband's general philosophy of care.
She said their office phone rang frequently Wednesday afternoon, which was "kind of freaking out our other employee."
A 2006 post on a blog for Baker's office said the comment originally was a criticism of insurance companies. Since then, the site said, it "has been a quote that has been picked up and quoted (sometimes without attribution) around the net" and "people are using it about all kinds of injustices."
After the arrest was announced Wednesday night, Wicker released a statement thanking "the men and women of the FBI and U.S. Capitol Police for their professionalism and decisive action in keeping our family and staff safe from harm." His offices in Mississippi and Washington "remain open for business to all Mississippians," he said in the statement.
Mail for members of Congress and the White House has been handled at off-site postal facilities since the 2001 anthrax attacks, which targeted Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota.
On heightened alert
Reports of suspicious packages and envelopes also came from two Senate office buildings Wednesday morning. Capitol Police evacuated the first floor of the Hart Senate Office Building for more than an hour and questioned a man in the area who had a backpack containing sealed envelopes, but the man was not taken into custody.
"It just reminds you that with public service comes the real possibility that you could be a target," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas. "But on the other side of it, we have an excellent police force, and I think they'll get to the bottom of it."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president had been briefed on the letters.
"Obviously, he understands and we all understand that there are procedures in place, as the FBI has said. There are, there is a process in place that ensures that materials that are suspicious, or substances that are found to be suspicious at remote locations, are then sent for secondary and more intense testing, and that process is under way now," he said.
Beyond Washington, suspicious letters spotted
Sadie Holland, a judge in Lee County, Mississippi, told CNN on Wednesday night that she received an envelope containing a suspicious substance and a letter similar to the ones sent to the offices of Obama and Wicker.
Holland said the letter included the line, "Now someone must die."
On April 10, the judge received and opened the envelope -- postmarked from Memphis, without a return address -- that included "suspicious content," Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson told reporters. The letter had "great consistencies and similarities" to the letters sent to Obama and Wicker, he said. Investigators were testing the contents of the envelope to determine whether it held ricin, he said.
Holland told CNN the letter initially tested negative for ricin but was retested Wednesday, with results also expected Thursday. Local authorities were awaiting the test results to determine whether to file state charges, Johnson said.
"The letter was handled, the chemical was handled by several different individuals in our justice court system," Johnson said, but added that "we do not have any reason to believe that anyone's life is in danger."
Suspicious letters in Michigan and Arizona, too
Investigators are trying to determine whether suspicious letters found at Senate offices elsewhere in the country came from the same source, federal law enforcement sources said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said one of his home-state offices received a "suspicious-looking" letter and alerted authorities. "We do not know yet if the mail presented a threat," said Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A staffer for Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake flagged "suspicious letters" at the freshman Republican's Phoenix office, Flake spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky said in a statement, but "no dangerous material was detected in the letters."
Phoenix Fire Department spokesman Jonathan Jacobs said the envelope contained a powder. The person who found the envelope was being treated at a Phoenix-area hospital for a pre-existing condition and stress from the event, and others in the immediate vicinity were examined as well.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the FBI said it has no indication of a connection between the letters and Monday's bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Ricin is easily made
Ricin is a toxic substance that can be produced easily and cheaply from castor beans. As little as 500 micrograms, an amount the size of the head of a pin, can kill an adult. There is no test for exposure and no antidote.
Experts say it is more effective for use against individuals than as a weapon of mass destruction.
Ricin was used in the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov. The author, who had defected nine years earlier, was jabbed by the tip of an umbrella while awaiting a bus in London and died four days later.
A ricin scare hit the Capitol in 2004, when tests identified it in a letter in a Senate mail room that served then-Majority Leader Bill Frist's office. The discovery led 16 employees to undergo decontamination; none was sickened, Frist said.
-- CNN's Stephanie Goggans, Barbara Starr, Joe Johns, Jessica Yellin, Dana Bash, Tom Cohen, Terry Frieden, Deanna Hackney, Elwyn Lopez, Lisa Desjardins and Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.