May 3, 2011

Court threat from downstate inmate

Published May 3, 2011
05-02-2011_HazMat_JJEmergency personnel stage near the MABAS decontamination unit, which has facilities for people to undress and shower as part of decontamination in hazardous materials incidents, outside the Second Appellate Courthouse in downtown Elgin on Monday afternoon. (James Jordan • BocaJump)By Ted Schnell • BocaJump
The police tape is gone and all was quiet Tuesday outside the Second Appellate Courthouse in downtown Elgin, but authorities say a threatening letter sent with suspicious white powder has been traced to a prison in southern Illinois.

Elgin Police Department spokeswoman Susan Olafson said Tuesday the letter containing the threat and the white powder has been traced to a downstate prison, although she did not have the name of the facility.

Olafson said that the FBI will not have the results of its tests on the white powder until Thursday, and that the courthouse will remain closed pending the outcome of those tests.
In the meantime, she said that the 28 people who were in the courthouse when the letter was open and who were taken to local hospitals are well and have shown no signs of illness. All were treated and released from the hospitals Monday evening.

The incident began about 11:20 a.m. Monday when someone in the courthouse opened a letter containing a threatening message and a suspicious white powder, Elgin authorities said.

The incident sparked a massive deployment by Elgin police and firefighters that eventually called in 15 to 20 fire department crews from as far away as Roselle as the incident was escalated to a box alarm.

Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy said Monday that the 28 people who were in the courthouse when the letter was opened were run through a decontamination process and sent to area hospitals as a precaution.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security took over the investigation of the incident as a "weapons of mass destruction case" sometime Monday, Fahy said.

Elgin’s hazardous materials team ruled out anthrax, ricin and botulism, Olafson said Monday. Anthrax and botulism are naturally occurring biological agents; ricin is a toxic agent derived from the castor bean.

But despite using a device that Fahy said is capable of distinguishing from among 80,000 various substances to test the material, the tests were inconclusive in determining exactly what the substance was and whether or not is presented a threat.

Olafson said the city is still adding up all the costs involved in responding to the incident.