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Apparent suicide in anthrax case

The Nation

Bruce E. Ivins, a scientist who helped the FBI investigate the 2001 mail attacks, was about to face charges.

August 01, 2008|David Willman | Times Staff Writer

"That's bull----," said one former senior USAMRIID official. "If there's contamination, you always reswab. And you would remember doing it."

The former official told The Times that Ivins might have hedged regarding reswabbing out of fear that investigators would find more of the spores inside or near his office.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, August 02, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Anthrax investigation: An article in Friday's Section A about the 2001 anthrax mailings said that suspect Bruce E. Ivins had worked for the last 18 years at the government's elite biodefense research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md. It should have said the last 28 years.

Ivins' statements were contained within a May 2002 Army report on the contamination at USAMRIID and was obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

Soon after the government's settlement with Hatfill was announced June 27, Ivins began showing signs of serious strain.

One of his longtime colleagues told The Times that Ivins, who was being treated for depression, indicated to a therapist that he was considering suicide.

Soon thereafter, family members and local police officers escorted Ivins from USAMRIID, where his access to sensitive areas was curtailed, the colleague said.

Ivins was committed to a facility in Frederick for treatment of his depression. On July 24, he was released from the facility, operated by Sheppard Pratt Health System. A telephone call that same day by The Times verified that Ivins' government voice mail was still functioning at the bacteriology division of USAMRIID.

The scientist faced forced retirement, planned for September, said his longtime colleague, who described Ivins as emotionally fractured by the federal scrutiny.

"He didn't have any more money to spend on legal fees. He was much more emotionally labile, in terms of sensitivity to things, than most scientists. . . . He was very thin-skinned."

FBI spokeswoman Debra J. Weierman said Thursday that the bureau would not comment on the death of Ivins.

Last week, FBI Director Mueller told CNN that "in some sense, there have been breakthroughs" in the case.

"I'll tell you we made great progress in the investigation," Mueller added.

"And it's in no way dormant."

Ivins, the son of a Princeton-educated pharmacist, was born and raised in Lebanon, Ohio, and received undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a doctorate in microbiology, from the University of Cincinnati.

The eldest of his two brothers, Thomas Ivins, said he was not surprised by the events that have unfolded.

"He buckled under the pressure from the federal government," Thomas Ivins said, adding that FBI agents came to Ohio last year to question him about his brother.

"I was questioned by the feds, and I sung like a canary" about Bruce Ivins' personality and tendencies, Thomas Ivins said.

"He had in his mind that he was omnipotent."

Ivins' widow declined to be interviewed when reached Thursday at her home in Frederick. The couple raised twins, now 24.

The family's home is 198 miles -- about a 3 1/2 -hour drive -- from a mailbox in Princeton, N.J., where anthrax spores were found by investigators.

All of the recovered anthrax letters were postmarked in that vicinity.

--

david.willman@latimes.com

Willman reported from Los Angeles and Washington. Times researcher Janet Lundblad contributed to this report.

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