ANTHRAX SCARE! Shuts Down Federal Court In St. Thomas … ‘Suspicious Package’ Turns Out To Be ‘Innocuous’
Ron de Lugo Federal Building in St. Thomas
By JOHN McCARTHY/Virgin Islands Free Press
CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Ron de Lugo Federal Building closed Tuesday afternoon due to a “suspicious package” that was received by the U.S. District Court, the Virgin Islands Free Press has learned.
According to information the V.I. Freep has been able to glean from people who were there at the time of the closure, three entities were sent suspicious packages, including the U.S. District Court on St. Thomas and a St. Thomas attorney currently active with the Virgin Islands Bar Association.
“A suspicious package was reported in the building,” said Patrick J. Sclafani, the regional public affairs officer for the Government Services Administration (GSA) that manages the building. “The (U.S.) Army Hazmat Team responded to the incident and issued the all clear as the contents were found to be innocuous.”
Employees of the federal court and attorneys expected to appear in court Tuesday afternoon were ushered out of the complex in an orderly fashion out of an abundance of caution on authorities’ part, a source who witnessed the incident said. Another witness said that they saw about 12 people standing outside on the lawn in front of the U.S. District Court about noon on Tuesday.
“A friend of mine said that some freak is spreading white powder around some businesses in St. Thomas,” a source said. “It was her building on Monday and the District Court on Tuesday.”
One of the envelopes was addressed directly to the U.S. District Court, another envelope was addressed to St. Thomas attorney Bennett Chan of the Law Office of Benham & Chan at 1001 Frederiksberg Gade and the third envelope was also delivered to the federal court because it was improperly addressed, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Please be advised that the District Court of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas Division, will be closed on August 30, 2016 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. due to an emergency,” Marilyn Arroyo, the generalist supervisor of the court said in a prepared statement.
Arroyo informed people who received the press release that electronic filing could still be done with the court and that all other business related to the federal court in St. Thomas should go through the St. Croix office at the Almeric Christian Federal Building in Estate Golden Rock.
The Ron de Lugo Federal Building includes the U.S. District Court and related federal offices and stands adjacent to and east of the Alexander Farrelly Justice Center that includes the St. Thomas jail and the Virgin Islands Superior Court on Veteran’s Drive on the waterfront in St. Thomas.
It is one of the most heavily-traveled areas of downtown Charlotte Amalie for vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
It was not immediately clear how Attorney Chan received an envelope, whether it was delivered to his attention at the federal court of to his private law offices in Charlotte Amalie.
Chan did not immediately respond to a request for further information.
If the suspicious packages had contained live anthrax spores it would have been the first time an incident of terrorism had occurred in U.S. Virgin Islands.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp is off-island and could not be reached for comment.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. Virgin Islands has never had an incident of terrorism either foreign or domestic in its history.
The U.S. Virgin Islands does not have its own military force and depends on the United States government to protect it from military and biological attacks.
The spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis is readily available in nature and can be deadly if inhaled, if ingested or if it comes into contact with a person’s skin.
What constitutes a deadly dose of inhalation anthrax has not been precisely quantified, but is estimated to be somewhere between 8,000 and 50,000 spores.
One gram of weaponized anthrax, such as that contained in the letters mailed to U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy in October 2001, can contain up to one trillion spores — enough to cause somewhere between 20 and 100 million deaths.
The letters mailed to Daschle and Leahy reportedly contained about one gram each for a total estimated quantity of two grams of anthrax spores: enough to have theoretically killed between 40 and 200 million people.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the current population of the United States is 318.9 million. In a worst-case scenario, the letters mailed to Daschle and Leahy theoretically contained enough anthrax spores to kill nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population.
Yet, in spite of their incredibly deadly potential, those letters (along with an estimated five other anthrax letters mailed in a prior wave to media outlets such as the New York Post and the major television networks) killed only five people; another 22 victims were infected by the spores but recovered after receiving medical treatment.
“This difference between the theoretical number of fatal victims — hundreds of millions — and the actual number of victims — five — highlights the challenges in effectively distributing even a highly virulent and weaponized strain of an organism to a large number of potential victims,” said Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, chief medical officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.