A Mississippi man was charged with threatening to kill or injure President Barack Obama and a U.S. senator by mailing them letters containing ricin, a deadly poison with no known antidote.
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, of Corinth, made an initial court appearance yesterday with his lawyer, Christi McCoy, in Oxford, Mississippi, where he was ordered held in custody. Curtis, in a black T-shirt, jogging pants and sneakers, told U.S. Magistrate Judge S. Allan Alexander that he understood he could get 15 years in prison if convicted. He didn’t enter a plea and is set to return to court today.
Envelopes addressed to Obama and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, with a “suspicious granular substance” were intercepted April 16, the day after two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line. The letters tested positive for ricin, according to a sworn affidavit by Brandon Grant of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Victor Dickerson of the U.S. Secret Service.
The letters were postmarked April 8 and both read in part: “No one wanted to listen to me before. There are still ‘Missing Pieces’ Maybe I have your attention now Even if that means someone must die” and were signed “I am KC and I approve this message.”
The FBI said in a statement yesterday that further forensic tests were being conducted.
“The FBI is not aware of any illness as a result of exposure to these letters,” the FBI said.
Inquiries with Wicker’s staff turned up previous letters to his Washington office with the sign-off “this is Kevin Curtis and I approve this message,” according to the affidavit. Curtis also wrote a blog post in September 2010 saying he was working on a novel about black market body parts titled “Missing Pieces,” according to the agents.
A third, similar letter with a suspicious substance was sent on April 8 to a judge in Lee County, where Curtis lives, the agents said. That substance hasn’t been tested, they said.
All three letters were on yellow paper and bore Memphis, Tennessee, postmarks, the agents said. Letters sent from northern Mississippi, where Curtis lives, usually bear a Memphis postmark, according to the affidavit.
A passage from the letters also matches a statement that Curtis posted on his Facebook page: “To see a wrong and not expose it is to become a silent partner to its continuance.”
The agents said that in 2007 Curtis was reported by his wife to the Bonneville Police Department. They said she told them he was “extremely delusional, anti-government, and felt the government was spying on him with drones.”
The letters’ discovery following the Boston bombings evoked memories in Washington of anthrax mailings that targeted lawmakers in 2001. Shortly after that year’s Sept. 11 attacks, letters containing anthrax were sent to two senators during a series of mailings to media and government offices that claimed five lives across the U.S. No lawmakers were harmed.
The letters and the Boston bombings haven’t been linked.
Ricin is made from castor beans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It’s harmful and potentially fatal if inhaled or ingested, the CDC said on its website.
Symptoms depend on the purity, route of exposure and the dose. Initial symptoms from inhalation occur as early as four to six hours after the exposure, and symptoms include difficulty breathing and a cough, according to the CDC.
The symptoms can progress rapidly to fluid within the lungs and eventually respiratory failure. Deaths from the poison usually happen within 36 to 72 hours. While no antidote exists, doctors can counteract the effects of the poisoning by helping victims breathe or giving them fluids.
The case is U.S. v. Curtis, 13-mj-00019, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Mississippi (Oxford).