White powder threat letters: 'Take a deep breath', 'I'll finish off survivors in hail of bullets'

Officials taking steps to ensure voting safety on Tuesday

The FBI is investigating after letters containing white powder told recipients to "take a deep breath" of Anthrax and threatened to "finish off the survivors with a hail of bullets".  

Letters were sent to 6th district candidate Karen Handel's home, five of her neighbors, and at least two media outlets including 11Alive News. Nine other letters were intercepted by the U.S. Postal Service before they were delivered. 

RELATED | Envelopes with powdery substance found in Karen Handel's neighborhood

The substance tested in more than a dozen letters was determined not to be Anthrax, and tested negative for any known hazard. The substance sent in the letter to 11Alive was identified as baking soda.The FBI vowed additional testing would be conducted "out of an abundance of caution" 

What was in the letter?

In a statement, Handel said "we had some suspicious packages delivered to our house and to our neighbors". 11Alive has confirmed letters to neighbors told them to breathe in the white powder and "resist the Fascist takeover". 

The page-long anti-Trump rant sent to media outlets accused the president of destroying the country's democracy. 

The vitriol then turned to the media, critical of a story about a vulgar flyer. 

The envelope included a copy of a flyer that appears to be the same flyer that had been previously sent to 80 homes in Fulton County. The vulgar piece of political propaganda was condemned by both campaigns and the Homeowners association president at the time.

The business-size envelopes also included that white powder, now determined not to be Anthrax.

Where was it from?

The postmark of the letter was from Greensville, South Carolina. There was no return address and no one within the letter claiming responsibility.

FBI Special Agent at the Atlanta Field Office Stephen Emmett said his office released images of the envelope as a safety and preventative measure. He also said his experienced investigators know that postmark could be misleading. Any criminal could use any post office to obtain a random postmark. 

The investigation

Special Agent Emmett said the FBI's response was typical of any weapons of mass destruction threat. As of noon on Friday, there had been no additional letters found. He said the federal investigation now moves in two directions: the lab and the letter. 

The lab will continue to work on every single letter and the substance inside "per hazardous materials protocol". 

Additional investigators will work on the letter and try to make sense of the its origin and the suspect or suspects behind it. They'll be comparing the letters and examining the similarities and differences. They'll also investigate any specific threats made in the letters. 

 What to do if you get a letter

Kevin Parker has more than ten years of experience as a counter intelligence agent with the U.S. Army. He's a threat mitigation expert with Edge Point Global with private and commercial clients, including 11Alive.

Parker said look for indicators a letter you receive could be dangerous. Red flags include no return address, a letter not addressed to you specially, and misspellings of common words. 

"Ask yourself why," Paker said. "If you don't have an answer to why you're receiving this letter and why you should open it, don't." 

He said trust your gut. "Don't discount it. Make a phone call to police. Tell them what you know and what you don't know. They'd rather respond to a false alarm than respond to a casualty." 

Parker said if you've already opened a letter that ends up with an unknown substance, follow these steps:

  • Get out of the home or building
  • Don't touch your face or other people
  • Call law enforcement and follow specific instructions

"We have to understand these are politically motivated," Parker said. "As we head towards Election Day, be aware. See something, say something isn't just a motto. We used to be really good at that, and we got away from it."


© 2017 WXIA-TV


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