Suspicious mail leads to anthrax scare

BY MIKE WISER

As anthrax scares spread across the nation, Harvard Law School discovered that it was not immune from the anxiety that has sent emergency workers scrambling to respond to thousands of incidents of letters that were suspicious enough to spook recipients to alert law enforcement. Around 3:30 p.m Monday, the HUPD, the Harvard Health and Safety Department and a Hazardous Materials Unit all responded to a report from the mail center that the school had received two suspicious letters at the mailroom in the Lewis Center.

According to Michael Rodman, the school’s press officer, one of the letters lacked a return address and another one had an incomplete address and had the word “Boston” in parenthesis on the envelope. Although the building was not evacuated, students getting out of class saw HAZMAT officers in full biological protective gear enter the building and retrieved the two letters from the mailroom. The team then took the suspicious letters into a secured environment and opened them for the fist time using rubber gloves.

Inside, there was none of the powder that has been associated with the verified cases of anthrax as well as with the numerous pranks that have spread across the world. Nor did the letters contain the cryptic messages and threats that had accompanied letters received at NBC and the Senate Office Building. The letters were just normal correspondence with strangely written addresses, but in these days of jittery nerves no letter looks completely normal.

Monday’s visit from the HAZMAT team, “hardly rates as incident in the long run,” Rodman said. “People obviously are nervous. We want them to take extra care and precaution, [but] there is nothing to be alarmed about at all,” he said. He encouraged students who received suspicious packages to contact the HUPD. A campus wide email sent out Tuesday said largely the same thing.

Harvard Law School was not alone in reacting this way to suspicious packages. Rodman said that around the time the HAZMAT team was entering the Lewis Center a similar incident was unfolding at the Radcliff campus.

The School’s case may not rate as an incident in the long run, but to employees and students standing outside Lewis Monday, it showed that HLS shared in the global apprehension and anxiety that the real mailer of the deadly germs had hoped to create.

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