August 13, 2008
FBI Joins Hotel Cyanide Inquiry; Victim Identified
By Hector Gutierrez
The FBI and local authorities are trying to sort out the mystery of what happened to a man found dead at the Burnsley Hotel in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood with a foreign substance that the coroner's office said might be cyanide.
On Tuesday, the man was identified as Saleman Abdirahman Dirie, a 29-year-old Canadian. Denver police said they believe he had been dead for several days before officers found him Monday morning.
"Because of the suspicious nature of the death and the unidentified substance - it leads to a lot of questions," Special Agent Kathy Wright, an FBI spokeswoman, said Tuesday.
The coroner's office said it completed an autopsy Tuesday, but medical examiners can't determine the manner and cause of death until they have the results of lab tests. Foul play is not suspected.
Denver police released a statement that officials at the coroner's office suspected the presence of cyanide when they received the body. Hazardous materials teams from several jurisdictions, including the FBI, found a jar in the fourth-floor room where the victim was staying that held between a pint and a quart of an unknown substance.
Investigators became concerned that they might be dealing with cyanide because the jar contained labeling that suggested it could be the deadly chemical, fire Lt. Philip Champagne said.
A source familiar with the case said authorities were looking at the possibility that the chemical was sodium cyanide.
The Department of Justice has classified sodium cyanide as a toxic chemical that, when mixed with strong acids, can be used as a chemical weapon.
Members of the 8th Civil Support Team of the Colorado National Guard were at the hotel Tuesday morning to provide support to local emergency responders, Capt. Robert Bell said in an e-mail.
Although the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force was alerted and is helping in the investigation, Wright emphasized that agents do not have information that would lead them to believe that the victim was a "terrorist or has terrorist ties."
Originally published by Hector Gutierrez, Rocky Mountain News.
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