A fuller picture is emerging of the ricin attacks on public officials and private individuals, including confirmation of the poisonous substance and a portrait of the alleged attacker.
Paul Kevin Curtis is being held in the Lafayette County jail in Oxford, Miss. He was arrested Wednesday at his home in Corinth, near the Tennessee state line. He has been charged with making threats against the president and sending letters threatening to injure other persons, the FBI and the US Attorney’s office announced Thursday.
Officials are awaiting the results of laboratory tests to determine whether ricin in fact was the substance contained in letters sent to US Sen. Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi and to President Obama. Both letters were intercepted at a government mail screening facility before they reached their intended recipients, and initial field testing indicated the presence of ricin, a poisonous substance made from castor beans.
Such off-site screening has been conducted on mail addressed to the White House and members of Congress since the anthrax attacks of 2001, which targeted Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, and then-Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota. Media organizations were targeted as well, killing five people and infecting 17 others.
While government officials have yet to release the results of the lab testing for ricin, US Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer tells the Associated Press that testing confirms that the letter to Senator Wicker did contain ricin.
"Our field tests indicate it was ricin. Our lab tests confirm it was ricin. So I don't get why others are continuing to use equivocal words about this," Mr. Gainer told the AP.
On Thursday, the Navy evacuated all 800 people from a naval support facility in Arlington, Va., after an envelope containing a white powder was delivered to the mail processing facility there, CNN reports. But initial testing indicated that the substance was not poisonous.
Although Judge Holland opened the letter herself on April 11, she has shown no signs of poisoning, Mr. Holland told the AP.
Like the letters to Wicker and the president, the letter to Judge Holland had a threatening message and was signed “K.C.”
Neighbors said “K.C.” – who officials say is Mr. Curtis – did not seem violent, although they were concerned about their safety and worried by the idea that someone was making poison in a house that sits so close to their bedrooms and front yards.
A church and a community center with an outdoor children's play area are just steps from Curtis's house. The home also is near an area with several mailboxes for the community. But neighbors said they rarely saw him retrieve mail and didn't speak with him much.
"He was quiet. He pretty much stayed to himself," neighbor Lacey Ross told the AP.
Ricky Curtis, who said he was Kevin Curtis's cousin, said the family was shocked by the news of the arrest. He described his cousin as a "super entertainer" who impersonated Elvis and numerous other singers.
"We're all in shock. I don't think anybody had a clue that this kind of stuff was weighing on his mind," Ricky Curtis said in a telephone interview with the AP.
Ricky Curtis said his cousin had written about problems he had with a cleaning business, and that he felt the government had not treated him well, but he said nobody in the family would have expected this.
The full details of the charges Curtis faces are yet to be presented, but the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., reports on a possible range of serious charges as outlined by Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson during a press conference Wednesday night.
“If it is [ricin], there’s a possibility of three charges, one is aggravated assault toward a public official, and the outspread of that could be the investigation into how many people this could have possibly affected that did actually handle it and there could be multiple charges as far as that,” Sheriff Johnson said. “Depending on the outcome of the test, it could also be distribution of a WMD, which is a weapon of mass destruction.”
Curtis was to appear in federal court Thursday. If convicted on the federal charges announced Thursday, he faces maximum possible penalties of 15 years in prison, $500,000 in fines, and three years of supervised release.