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Anthrax suspect had made reported threats

August 02, 2008|By DAVID DISHNEAU

FREDERICK, MD. - Bruce E. Ivins was a juggler, a gardener, a church musician, a Red Cross volunteer - and a suspected multiple murderer, according to federal authorities.

Some people who knew him scoffed at the government's assertion that Ivins sent the anthrax letters that killed five people and sickened 17 in the fall of 2001. But court documents indicate the outwardly mild-mannered Ivins had a menacing side.

Documents show that Ivins recently received psychiatric treatment, and that he was ordered last week to stay away from Jean C. Duley, a social worker who counseled him. In her application for a protective order, Duley wrote that Ivins had stalked and threatened to kill her and had a history of homicidal threats.

Ivins, 62, committed suicide this week as federal prosecutors zeroed in on him as a suspect in the 2001 attacks. They were planning to indict him and seek the death penalty.

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Ivins' brother, Tom Ivins, who stressed that had not spoken to Bruce since 1985, was not shocked to hear that his brother was accused of making death threats, and he conceded the possibility that Bruce may have been the anthrax mailer.

"It makes sense, what the social worker said," Tom Ivins said. "He considered himself like a god."

Some who knew Ivins said the scrutiny of the investigation was too much for him to bear. But they also asserted his innocence.

"The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways," his attorney, Paul F. Kemp, said in a statement. "In Dr. Ivins' case, it led to his untimely death."

Ivins had worked for the past 18 years at the government's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick. For more than a decade, he worked to develop an anthrax vaccine that worked even when different strains of anthrax were mixed, which made vaccines ineffective.

Dr. W. Russell Byrne, a colleague who worked in the bacteriology division of the Fort Detrick research facility, said Ivins was "hounded" by FBI agents who raided his home twice, and he was hospitalized for depression earlier this month.

According to Byrne and local police, Ivins was removed from his workplace out of fears he might harm himself or others.

"I think he was just psychologically exhausted by the whole process," Byrne said.

Still, Byrne did not think the probe would result in charges being filed. "If he was about to be charged, no one who knew him well was aware of that, and I don't believe it," Byrne said.

Neighbor Bonnie Duggan, who brought her daughter, Natalie, to Ivins' home near Fort Detrick on occasion to see the family's elaborate gardens, was also incredulous at the charges.

"It's not the Bruce that I knew," Duggan said. "It doesn't jibe with anything about the Bruce that was my neighbor."

The Duggans maintained their faith in Ivins even though FBI agents had watched his home for a year, sitting in vehicles with tinted windows.

"They said, 'We're on official business,'" said 16-year-old Natalie Duggan.

Ivins is survived by his wife Diane and two adult children: a son, Andy, and a daughter, Amanda, as well as two brothers, Tom R. Ivins of Middletown, Ohio, and Charles W. Ivins of Etowah, N.C.

Diane Ivins was a stay-at-home mom who ran a daycare center out of the family's home, and the Ivinses were heavily involved in their children's activities, Bonnie Duggan said.

"They had this big red van and were always taking a bunch of kids to swim meets," she said.

Ivins could frequently be seen walking around his neighborhood for exercise. He volunteered with the American Red Cross of Frederick County, and he played keyboard and helped clean up after Masses at St. John's the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, where a dozen parishioners gathered Friday after morning Mass to pray for him.

The Rev. Richard Murphy called Ivins "a quiet man ... always very helpful and pleasant."

An avid juggler, Ivins gave juggling demonstrations around Frederick in the 1980s.

"One time, he demonstrated his juggling skills by lying on his back in the department and juggling with his hands," said Byrne, who described Ivins as "eccentric."

Whenever a colleague would leave the bacteriology division, Ivins would write a song or poem for that person and perform it, accompanying himself on keyboard, Byrne said.

Byrne said Ivins appeared to be at peace and that he expressed no interest in the anthrax mailings, even after some letters were sent to Fort Detrick for analysis.

"There are people who you just know are ticking bombs," Byrne said. "He was not one of them."

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