A White House mail screening facility has intercepted a suspicious letter addressed to President Obama that is similar to two letters containing threats for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his gun-control group in Washington, according to the Secret Service Thursday.
The letter addressed to Mr. Obama has been turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The other two letters, which are also being investigated, have already tested positive for ricin, authorities said Wednesday.
The pair of letters that surfaced first, and that were sent anonymously, were opened in New York on Friday at the city’s mail facility in Manhattan and in Washington on Sunday, according to New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne. Mr. Browne said “the writer, in the letters, threatened Mayor Bloomberg, with references to the debate on gun laws."
The letter addressed to Obama also had an anti-gun control message, along with a suspicious substance, a law-enforcement source told ABC News.
The civilian personnel who initially came into contact with the first pair of letters showed no symptoms of exposure to the poison, but three police officers who later examined the New York letter experienced minor symptoms that have since abated, Browne said.
One letter was addressed to Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a nonprofit advocacy group started by Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino that lobbies federal and state lawmakers for stricter gun-control laws.
Mr. Glaze opened the letter while sitting outside over the Memorial Day weekend, a colleague told the Associated Press. According to ABC News, Glaze opened the letter on a park bench and then called for help after seeing powder in the envelope.
A Joint Terrorism Task Force of the FBI and the NYPD’s Intelligence Division are investigating the threats, Browne said.
Ricin can be made from castor beans and can be lethal if ingested even in small quantities.
Asked about the letters Wednesday night, Bloomberg said: “There’s 12,000 people that are going to get killed this year with guns and 19,000 that are going to commit suicide with guns, and we’re not going to walk away from those efforts. And I know I speak for all of the close to 1,000 mayors” in Mayors Against Illegal Guns, he said. “This is a scourge on the country that we just have to make sure that we get under control and eliminate.”
While officials would not comment on what specific threats were made or where the letters were postmarked, ABC News reports that the author wrote he or she has a "constitutional and God-given right and I will exercise that right 'til I die" – saying that the government would have to kill him or her before he or she would relinquish any weapons.
The first two letters to surface were postmarked from Shreveport, La., ABC News reports. The Shreveport mayor, Cedric Glover, released a statement Thursday morning:
"The city of Shreveport in conjunction with the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force is working to apprehend those responsible for mailing ricin laced letters to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg," Mr. Glover said. "We are also taking the necessary steps to protect local [Postal Service] & Government Plaza personnel as well as local citizens from any possible harm."
The letters are the latest in a string of toxin-laced missives. In Washington State, Matthew Buquet of Spokane was charged last week with threatening to kill a federal judge in a letter that contained ricin. That letter was discovered earlier this month during screening, before it was delivered to the judge, Reuters reported.
In April, letters containing the same substance were addressed to Obama, a US senator, and a Mississippi judge. J. Everett Dutschke, a former tae kwon do instructor from Tupelo, Miss., was arrested in that case on April 27, four days after federal prosecutors dropped charges against Paul Kevin Curtis, an Elvis impersonator from Corinth, Miss, whose lawyer says he may have been framed.
Browne would not say whether the latest letters were believed to be linked to the other ricin cases.
Bloomberg’s advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, counts more than 700 mayors nationwide as members. It aired a spate of television ads this year urging Congress to expand background checks and pass other gun-control measures after the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The background-check proposal failed in a Senate vote in April, and other measures that gun-control advocates wanted – including a ban on sales of military-style assault weapons – have stalled.
Separately, Bloomberg also has made political donations to candidates who share his desire for tougher gun restrictions. His "super political-action committee," Independence USA, put $2.2 million into a Democratic primary this winter for a US congressional seat in Illinois, for example. Bloomberg’s choice, former state lawmaker Robin Kelly (D), won the primary and the seat.
• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.