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Anthrax Saga Began After Sept. 11 Attacks

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Autumn of 2001 was an unsettling time, following the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The anthrax attacks that began about a week later added to the general unease. We thought we'd go back over some of those early events. On October 5th, a man named Bob Stevens died of anthrax inhalation. He worked for the Sun tabloid newspaper in Boca Raton, Florida. The FBI quickly got involved. John Ashcroft was the attorney general at the time.

(Soundbite of news archive)

Mr. JOHN ASHCROFT (Former U.S. Attorney General): We regard this as an investigation which could become a clear criminal investigation.

NORRIS: The Sun's offices were shut down. Later, two mailroom employees tested positive for anthrax, and anthrax spores were found on Bob Stevens' computer keyboard.

(Soundbite of NBC News Theme)

Unidentified Man: From NBC News….

NORRIS: On the 12th of October, another confirmed case of anthrax at NBC in New York. Days earlier, an assistant to "Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw had opened a threatening letter with some powder in it and developed a rash. She was treated with antibiotics. By month's end, ABC and CBS and the New York Times were all apparent targets. And the attacks did not stop with the news media.

(Soundbite of news briefing)

Senator TOM DASCHLE (Former Democratic Senator, South Dakota): About 10:30 this morning, my office opened a suspicious package.

NORRIS: In Washington, on October 15th, Democratic Senator Tom Daschle briefed reporters.

Sen. DASCHLE: Just as soon as it became clear that there was a suspicious substance in the envelope, we contacted the Capitol police and the Capitol physician.

NORRIS: The pattern was clear: anthrax powder mailed with threatening letters to high-profile addresses. But it was not the high-profile targets who suffered most from the attacks.

On October 22nd, we learned that two workers from the Brentwood Postal Facility in Washington, D.C. had died: Thomas Morris Jr. and Joseph Curseen. Tom Ridge was then Homeland Security director.

Mr. TOM RIDGE (Former Director, U.S. Department of Homeland Security): The cause of death, to date, is unclear. But I'll tell you what is very clear. It is very clear that their symptoms are suspicious, and their deaths are likely due to anthrax.

NORRIS: And that was soon confirmed. A Manhattan hospital worker named Katie Nguyen and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman named Ottilie Lundgren also died that month. In all, a total of 5 people were killed and at least 17 people were sickened by anthrax in October 2001. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.