New Haven, Yale respond to local anthrax threats

Threats of exposure to the deadly bacteria anthrax struck government offices and businesses across the nation Monday, putting law enforcement agencies on high alert throughout the country and state.

In New Haven and in cities across the United States, local police and rescue workers responded diligently to numerous reports of suspicious packages and powders, none of which have yet been linked to anthrax or terrorist activity.

Police evacuated the New Haven headquarters of the Knights of Columbus and investigated threats at the Connecticut Financial Center tower downtown and throughout the city. Meanwhile, Yale officials investigated two reports involving packages that lacked return addresses, both of which turned out to be benign.

New York Times President and General Manager Janet Robinson was scheduled to speak at a Master’s Tea Tuesday but decided to cancel her visit, citing a need to be at the Times’ office after an anthrax scare in the newsroom. On Friday, a Times reporter received a letter containing white powder, which was subsequently determined not to contain anthrax.

Robinson will visit Yale Nov. 13 instead, a Times spokeswoman said.

In Washington, a letter received Monday by one of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s aides tested positive for anthrax, and threats of exposure to the disease throughout the Capitol forced a shutdown of the congressional mailroom and a halt to public tours there.

That discovery followed earlier incidents in Florida, New York and Nevada in which at least 12 people were exposed to spores of the potentially deadly bacteria.

Another case of the disease was announced in New York Monday night.

The 7-month-old child of an ABC News employee tested positive for anthrax, ABC News President David Westin said. The child is expected to recover. New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said news agencies throughout the city were being inspected for anthrax contamination.

In New Haven, city police and fire officials evacuated the headquarters of the Knights of Columbus at 1 Columbus Plaza after employees on the building’s 19th floor reported finding a white powder in a letter, Deputy Fire Chief William Ryan said.

Police also closed a section of Church Street along the New Haven Green for half an hour Monday while fire officials investigated another report of a white powder residue discovered on the wall of an office in the Connecticut Financial Center.

Police on the scene at at 157 Church St. said city officials fielded at least two other calls involving concern over anthrax exposure Monday. New Haven police officials were not available for comment Monday afternoon.

Agents with the New Haven office of the FBI were involved in the ongoing investigations of both the Knights of Columbus and Connecticut Financial Center incidents, Ryan said.

Officials did not know Monday whether either of the powders contained any form of anthrax. Samples from both sites will be tested over the next few days, Ryan said.

At Yale, police responded to two false alarms involving suspicious packages Monday.

A hastily wrapped anonymous parcel addressed only to the Morse College Master’s Office prompted police to close the area for several hours, Yale Police Chief James Perrotti said.

When opened, the package contained an antique iron a student had ordered through the online auction service eBay, said Barbara Wexelman ’03, a Morse College master’s aide.

Wexelman is a former Yale Daily News photography editor.

Police also responded to a similar call at Dunham Lab on Hillhouse Avenue. A package there, also without a return address, contained a book, Perrotti said.

Police fielded similar calls throughout the state Monday, said Sgt. J. Paul Vance, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police.

“It’s ignorance — that’s what it is,” Vance said. “People don’t realize this isn’t a joke.”

Vance said police were dealing with “each and every call” but warned those worried about anthrax exposure that false alarms can be a “great inconvenience” to law enforcement and businesses.

Vance, Ryan and Perrotti said their respective organizations have the capacity to deal with calls like those received Monday, but they warned an increase in the number of such reports could push resources to the breaking point.

In Hartford, workers in a building that houses state tax and welfare workers were ordered out of their offices after a similar scare. An employee on the 15th floor at the Department of Revenue Services opened an envelope containing white power, which preliminary field tests indicated did not contain anthrax, Vance said.

The state emergency services unit, which is trained to respond to biological threats, received 10 similar calls Monday and 36 over the weekend, Vance said.

The concern has prompted state officials to suggest increased security at the Capitol and Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Both Gov. John G. Rowland, a Republican, and state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin Sullivan, a Democrat, said Monday they supported the installation of metal detectors in both buildings.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Specialized police equipment for handling potential explosives was called to Morse College Monday after reports of a suspicious package in the Master's Office. It was a false alarm.
Barbara Wexelman
Specialized police equipment for handling potential explosives was called to Morse College Monday after reports of a suspicious package in the Master's Office. It was a false alarm.

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