Six Conn. Capitol Staffers Deconed Following Mail Scare


 
 

Christopher Keating | | Thursday, March 13, 2008


HARTFORD, Conn. -- Six employees of the Connecticut governor's office were decontaminated Wednesday after one of them opened an envelope at the state Capitol and immediately reacted with itching of his eyes and face, police said.

Two employees, including the man who opened the envelope, were taken to Hartford Hospital for evaluation. The man, who was not identified, walked out of the Capitol at 4:38 p.m. wearing a full-length, all-white "moon suit" that covered his head and feet. He stepped into an ambulance and was driven away.

The second employee, a woman, was brought to the hospital suffering from stress, police said.

The entire suite of fourth-floor staff offices will remain closed for about 48 hours as the incident is investigated and the envelope is tested by the state Department of Public Health, Capitol police Chief Michael J. Fallon said. This area is separate from the second-floor office where the governor works.

The incident prompted a massive response by Capitol, state and Hartford police, as well as the Hartford Fire Department and at least three ambulances from American Medical Response. The West Hartford Fire Department's mass decontamination unit was parked outside the building during the incident. The state police Major Crime Squad detectives, along with the FBI and postal inspectors, are investigating.

The incident started at 2:45 p.m. when the employee opened an envelope "that contained an irritant with a strange-smelling odor," state police said.

The employee was working in Room 408 in a suite of offices used by the governor's staff in the building's west end.

"We treat everything authentic until we can prove otherwise," Fallon said. "Nowadays, you can't be too cautious. ... There's no signs of powder. There's no signs of liquid. We don't know what it is or if it's anything at all."

The envelope will be tested at the state health department's laboratory, and Fallon expects results within two days. Some Capitol officials believe it could be the heavy odor from ink or the smell associated with a "Sharpie" marker.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her press staff were not evacuated from their offices, nor was the Capitol press room, which is on the fourth floor at the other end of the building.

State Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, who has an office near the press room, worked there for three hours during the police response.

During the confusion of the day, different stories were told by officials. The state police announced in a press release that they had "received a report that white powder had been discovered" by employees of the governor's staff offices on the fourth floor.

But Fallon disputed that notion later in the day.

"That information was not released from the state Capitol police and is inaccurate at this time," Fallon said.

The response by emergency personnel drew a large press contingent, including several television stations and a news helicopter.

Republican staffer Gary Berner had been working in the governor's suite of fourth-floor offices in Room 400, but he and others were able to continue working.

"I didn't sense the slightest bit of panic or alarm," Berner said.

Overall, six employees were working in the large room where the envelope was opened, but only two were sent to the hospital.

"All six were, in fact, decontaminated," Fallon said.

When asked if the envelope contained any threats, Fallon said the incident was being investigated by the state police.

"I'm not at liberty to speak to that," he said.

Contact Christopher Keating at ckeating@courant.com


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