When envelopes containing anthrax spores began to turn up in 2001 at the nation’s top news organizations, I was working as an editorial assistant in CNN’s main newsroom in Atlanta, where my responsibilities included sorting and distributing the mail. When news broke this week that the FBI believes it has solved the case, I was reminded of that uncertain and scary period.
It’s easy to forget sometimes the climate of fear in which we all lived after the 9/11 attacks. Though I don’t think about it much, there were a few days where I sifted gingerly through the mail bin, holding my breath, trying to avoid touching any handwritten envelopes, and pulling out only the innocuous-looking packets that were obviously from public relations firms. I was nervous enough that I convinced myself a few times I saw powder where there was none, and that my fingers were tingling after taking care of the mail. At night, I reassured my parents that I was fine.
It was only for a few days. Shortly after the anthrax attacks, from which five people would eventually die, CNN set up trailers in the parking decks across the street, where the mail was examined before it was allowed to enter the building. But when measures like that were suddenly necessary, I couldn’t help but reexamine the safety of everyday routines I once thought nothing of. I know I wasn’t alone in that regard.
In the following years, the inability of investigators to solve the anthrax case served as yet another reminder that our government may be unable to protect the public as effectively as we might have thought prior to such attacks.
The FBI has yet to demonstrate compelling evidence that Dr. Bruce Ivins, an Army bioweapons expert who killed himself last week was behind the attacks. But whether it was Ivins or not, it remains imperative that the distributor of the anthrax is found, and some closure is brought to the families of the victims – who suffered in ways unimaginably more terrible than the mere unease I endured during that time.
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