August 4, 2008

Anthrax Suspect Hinted at Violence, Witness Says

By Sarah Abruzzese and Eric Lipton

Eric Lipton reported from Washington. William J. Broad contributed reporting from New York.


Bruce Ivins arrived in July at a group counseling session at a psychiatric center here in his hometown with a startling announcement: Facing the prospect of murder charges, he had bought a bulletproof vest and a gun as he contemplated killing his co- workers at the nearby army research laboratory.

"He was going to go out in a blaze of glory, and he was going to take everybody out there with him," said a social worker in a transcript of a hearing at which she sought a restraining order against Ivins after his threats.

The homicidal ranting represented the final stages of psychological decline by Ivins that ended when he took his life last week, as it became clear that he was a prime suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

For more than three decades, Ivins, 62, had worked with some of the world's most dangerous pathogens and viruses, trying to find cures in case they might someday be used as weapons. Now he was being questioned about his possible role as the culprit in the nation's worst biological attack.

To some of his longtime colleagues and neighbors, it was a startling and inexplicable turn of events for a churchgoing, family- oriented researcher known for his jolly disposition - the guy who did a juggling act at community events and composed satirical ballads he played on guitar or piano to departing co-workers.

"He did not seem to have any particular grudges or idiosyncrasies," said Kenneth Hedlund, a retired physician who once worked alongside Ivins at the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick. "He was the last person you would have suspected to be involved in something like this."

Ivins, the son of a pharmacist from Lebanon, Ohio, who held a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Cincinnati, spent his entire career at the elite army-run laboratory, which conducts high-security experiments into the world's most lethal diseases, ranging from anthrax to Ebola.

Ivins and his wife, Diane Ivins, raised their two children in a modest Cape Cod home in a post-World War II neighborhood outside the gates of Fort Detrick. He was active in the community, volunteering with the Red Cross and serving as the musician for many years at a Roman Catholic church.

But as investigators intensified their focus on Ivins, his life began to unravel. For at least six months of this year, he had been attending group counseling sessions at a psychiatric center and had apparently been seeing a psychiatrist.

After Ivins made the threats on July 9 about possibly killing his co-workers, he was detained while at work and taken to a hospital before being transferred to a nearby psychiatric hospital. He was later released but forbidden from going to Fort Detrick.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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