A BuzzFlash News Analysis
A BuzzFlash News Analysis
October 9, 2001
BuzzFlash Insider Account of the Anthrax Scare
BuzzFlash sources at the Boca Raton offices of American Media Inc., the publisher of The Sun, The National Enquirer, and other tabloid publications, believed, as reported in Newsweek, that an envelope containing a "soapy letter," was received just days before September 11.
Bob Stevens, The Sun's Photo Editor and a close friend of our sources, died from anthrax inhalation on Friday.
On Monday, Newsweek magazine's Web site reported that the AMI office received a "weird love letter to Jennifer Lopez" a week before the September 11 attacks. Inside was a "Star of David charm" and a "soapy, powdery substance."
"It didn't cause a concern then, because they get weird stuff in the mail all the time," our source said, "But everybody's state of alertness changed dramatically after September 11."
The Palm Beach Post is reporting AMI employee rumors of a mysterious, foreboding e-mail message left by a departed "Middle Eastern" intern as a possible source of the mail. An AMI company official told Newsweek that the email had "a sense of foreboding" and that it referred to a "surprise" or "something that he left behind."
One of our sources is now saying that the intern was a Basque Spaniard and he may have left bagels and cream cheese. According to published sources, he's also agreed to take a lie detector test.
"We were really following it closely after Bob got sick. It was being asserted, very quickly, that this was not a terrorist incident. They said Bob was an outdoorsman and could have picked up [the anthrax spores] there," said our source. "But no traces were found in Bob's house or car, which led back to it probably originating in the building."
One of our sources offered another possible theory. "[Stevens] may have hit his keyboard and touched his nose. It literally sounded like he would have had to place [the spores] in his nose," our sources said. "But, I'm assuming [Stevens and second anthrax victim 73-year-old mail worker Ernesto Blanco] sniffed it to see what it was."
"Other than that, [the FBI and AMI] are being extremely tight-lipped."
Lynn Allison, a freelance medical reporter for AMI, confirmed information that AMI and AMI officials have been supportive and helpful, but she says the Centers for Disease Control waited too long to close down the building.
"They should have tested it immediately," Allison said. "To make us worry and wait, is the wrong thing to do. [They said] 'Don't worry, this is an isolated case.'" But, she added, "The CDC said they found 'environmental anthrax' as well as on the keyboard," indicating the spread may not have been isolated to Stevens' keyboard.
According to the New York Post today, a third AMI employee is also reported to have contracted anthrax after going into the hospital to be tested for pneumonia.
While anthrax spores have been found on Stevens' workplace keyboard, anthrax is not known to be naturally airborne. But, according to AP reporter Amanda Riddle, all 300 people who work in the AMI building - and anyone who spent more than an hour inside since Aug. 1 - were being advised to visit health officials.
In addition to the stress of the investigation, some AMI employees are reportedly having difficulty finding Cipro, the antibiotics prescribed by the CDC. Allison was told to go see her doctor for it and drove 20 miles to find a pharmacy with Cipro in stock. "Idiots are hoarding it," she said.
Outside of the AMI building investigation, news sources are also confirming cases of strange powdery substances found on mail. The Palm Beach Post is reporting four such cases since Sunday, but neither those involved nor their mail were found to be infected with anthrax.
Until today, "no one was giving any credible conversation about the mail," one AMI source said, adding that they "wanted people to be aware that there were four or five people who have received bills or junk mail with powder in it. If you get something strange in the mail, take it seriously."
"But, when something is dangerous to your family and your children, it takes on a whole new life. For me, right now, I'm doing okay. With all the focus on the people we know, I'm trying to think of things I can do to help."
If a test for anthrax comes back positive, they "want to test your children and the family," said one source, adding that families may need more assistance than a nose swab and petri dish test. "I had panic attacks after September 11. I literally attributed it to not being able to handle any more information. I was okay with the newspaper and news online, but that ticker tape on CNN, combined with a cup of coffee, gave me heart palpitations."
"If you don't look at a map, you don't realize that Del Ray Beach is right next door. Fifteen of [the suspected terrorists] lived right there. It's very conceivable that the terrorists put this stuff into envelopes and mailed it before the attacks. On the other hand, it could be just a random thing."
"My tilt on this whole situation is to have responsible information so people can have a heads up without panicking," our source said.
Allison backed up that sentiment, "I'm talking to you to alert people to be smart. Don't believe everything they tell you. Do your homework. Stay safe."
According to CBS News, the FBI is calling this a "criminal" investigation and not a terrorist plot. Additionally, information released by the FBI does not support our sources claims of "environmental anthrax," only the spores found on Stevens' keyboard:
ANTHRAX IS NOT A VIRUS AND NOT TRANSMITTED FROM PERSON TO PERSON.
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