New York City police announced late Wednesday that an unidentified suspect mailed letters containing poisonous ricin powder to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a prominent gun control advocate working out of the Human Rights Campaign building in Washington, D.C.
In a dramatic turn of events, Deputy New York Police Commissioner Paul J. Browne said preliminary tests determined a powdery substance sent to the D.C. office of longtime gay rights advocate Mark Glaze, who serves as director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, appears to be ricin.
“Anonymous threats to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in letters opened in New York City on Friday and by the director of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns in Washington, D.C. on [Memorial Day] contained material that when tested locally, preliminarily indicated the presence of ricin,” Browne said in a statement.
Browne’s statement, which was confirmed by an FBI spokesperson in Washington, contradicts a statement given to the Washington Blade on Tuesday by D.C. Fire Department spokesperson Lon Walls.
Walls said he was told that a preliminary field test of the powder sent to Glaze at the HRC building conducted by the DCFD’s Hazmat Unit indicated it was not hazardous. Walls and another D.C. Fire Department spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Erika Soto Lamb, a spokesperson for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told the Blade on Tuesday that Glaze had been operating that organization as an employee of the Raben Group, a lobbying and political consulting firm that rents offices at the HRC building at 1640 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W.
Lamb said that Glaze recently decided to leave the Raben Group to work full-time as head of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He was in the process of removing his belongings from the Raben Group’s offices at the HRC building at the time the threatening letter arrived, Lamb said.
D.C. police, Fire Department investigators and FBI agents rushed to the HRC building about 5 p.m. Monday after Glaze called police to report he had just opened an envelope containing a threatening letter and the powdery substance, according to a D.C. police report.
The report says Glaze came to his office on Memorial Day to check his mail, among other things, and decided to open the mail while sitting on a bench in a park area just outside the HRC building on Rhode Island Avenue.
Lamb told the Blade the threatening letter targeted Glaze solely for his role as a gun control advocate and made no mention of HRC or LGBT related issues.
Bloomberg, who is one of the nation’s leading gun control advocates, serves as co-chair of the 950-member Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg helped to found.
The statement by Browne, the deputy New York police commissioner, says the anonymous ricin bearing letter sent to Bloomberg arrived at the New York City mail facility on Gold Street in Manhattan on Friday, May 24.
Members of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit who came in contact with the letter were being examined for “minor symptoms of ricin exposure that they experienced on Saturday but which have since abated,” the statement says.
“The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the NYPD Intelligence Division, which is responsible for the mayor’s protection, are investigating the threats,” Browne said in his statement.
Browne’s statement says the writer of the letter to Bloomberg made “references to the debate on gun laws” and is believed to be the same person who sent the threatening letter and powdery substance to Glaze in Washington.
Jacqueline Maguire, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Washington, D.C. Field Office, told the Blade the FBI is working with both D.C. and New York City police in the investigation into the threats against Bloomberg and Glaze.
Maguire said further tests of the powder sent in the two letters were continuing as part of a standard protocol for investigating incidents of this kind.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. A fact sheet on the CDC website says ricin is commonly produced as a waste product in the production of castor oil from castor beans.
The fact sheet says purified ricin produced with the intention of using it as a poison attacks the human body by preventing cells from making proteins, causing cells to die.
“Eventually this is harmful to the whole body, and death may occur,” the fact sheet says, depending on how large the amount of ricin is ingested, inhaled, or injected.