Suspicious Letter Opened at Court House

By: Lisa Ferrari
By: Lisa Ferrari

September 14, 2005

A suspicious letter turned up at the Albemarle County court house Wednesday morning alarming officials and releasing a white substance into the air.

The sheriff's office didn't taking any chances. They evacuated the building and closed down the court house.

Rumors started spreading pretty quickly that the substance could be anthrax but local officials were almost certain the powder was not harmful. They had some tests done on the substance and within a few hours told us it was simply some type of food material and not dangerous to anyone.

At around 11:00 this morning a suspicious envelope arrived at the Albemarle County General District Court. A staff member opened the letter and a white substance dispersed into the air. Six people were exposed to the powder.

"We put an emergency plan into action and those six people were quarantined," said Albemarle County Police Lt. John Teixeira

"They took charge in terms of controlling the environment and making sure the court house was safe and secure," said Albemarle County Sheriff Ed Robb

The 30 additional people inside the court house were evacuated and the court house was shut down.

"What makes this a little more serious in nature as far as concern is that it became aerosolized. That means that you can breathe it," said Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner.

A hazmat team put the six people exposed through a decontamination process.

"While we don't think there is anything serious as far as the threat we are not going to take any chances with the people that are here or in the building," said Werner

Officials also say no one who came in contact with the substance showed any unusual signs or symptoms.

Again the powder tested to be non-toxic and emergency personnel had the court house back open by 4:15 Wednesday afternoon.

Albemarle County Police say they have no idea who might have sent the letter, but will continue to investigate this case.

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