WASHINGTON (AP) — More than three dozen suspicious but apparently harmless letters addressed to District of Columbia schools appear to have been mailed from the Dallas area and closely resemble letters under investigation by authorities there, the FBI said Friday.
Envelopes containing a white, powdery substance were delivered to 28 D.C. schools on Thursday. One school received two letters. On Friday morning, eight more envelopes were found: four that had been delivered to schools and four more that were collected at a mail facility by U.S. postal inspectors, said Lindsay Godwin, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
No hazardous substances have been found in any of the envelopes, and no one has been injured or become ill after coming into contact with them. They are being analyzed at an FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va.
The letters had the same characteristics as mailings under investigation by the FBI and postal inspectors in Dallas, the FBI said in a news release. James McJunkin, head of the Washington field office, said similar letters have been mailed to schools elsewhere in the U.S. over the last several weeks.
A few of the letters were also sent to D.C. schools last October, the FBI said.
A law enforcement official with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that the envelopes contained a letter referring to al-Qaida and the FBI and that the white powder had the look and consistency of cornstarch. The official was not authorized to release the information and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The envelopes were addressed to the schools and not to individuals, and the addresses were typed, the FBI said. WRC-TV in Washington obtained an image of one of the letters that had a Dallas postmark. The stamp appeared to be canceled on May 2, the day after the U.S. announced it had killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
D.C. schools began reporting the letters around 1 p.m. Thursday. The city has more than 100 public schools and another 52 charter schools with 93 campuses. Mayor Vincent Gray condemned the mailings as “a dastardly act.”
Schools were open on time Friday, and police were working with postal inspectors to make sure mail delivered to the schools was safe, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said. School employees were told to check their mail and immediately turn over any suspicious letters to police, said Frederick Lewis, a D.C. schools spokesman.
Administrators and teachers were also asked to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior or objects, Lewis said. Parents from schools that received the letters were alerted with automatic phone calls.
Responding to the mailings tied up “hundreds of hours of police and law enforcement resources,” the FBI said in a news release. McJunkin said Thursday that sending the letters was a “serious criminal offense” and that authorities had to be vigilant in case one of them contained something hazardous.
Mark Simon, whose daughter is an 11th grader at Washington’s School Without Walls where a suspicious letter was sent, said he wasn’t overly concerned about the school’s safety.
“This is not an unusual thing. This is what we live with, not just in this city but everywhere in the country,” Simon said.
People have been wary of powdery substances in letters since a series of anthrax mailings after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Five people died in October and November 2001 from anthrax inhalation or exposure linked to the letters. The government eventually determined that Bruce Ivins, a researcher who worked at Fort Detrick in Maryland and later committed suicide, was behind the mailings of powdered spores.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)