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Details Of Anthrax Investigation Awaited


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The seven-year investigation into the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001 ended this week with a sudden turn. A government scientist who was being investigated about those attacks committed suicide. Bruce Ivins was a top-level microbiologist working at the Fort Detrick bioweapons lab. And reports today say that the U.S. government was about to discuss a possible plea bargain with defense attorneys shortly before Dr. Ivins swallowed a fatal dose of prescription drugs. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us in the studio. Ari, thanks for being with us.

ARI SHAPIRO: No problem.


SIMON: And about to discuss a possible plea bargain isn't the same as entering into a plea bargain negotiation?

SHAPIRO: That's right, and we have no indications that he planned to plead guilty. In fact, his lawyer, Paul Kemp, put out a statement saying that his client was innocent, and he regrets now that he won't be able to prove that at trial. But the report that he was planning to meet to discuss a plea bargain just shows how aware he was that the net was closing in on him. Yesterday, his therapist was scheduled to testify before a grand jury about what she described as his homicidal threats and actions. And so all of these things put together, you know, the fact that he was escorted publicly from his office and barred from sensitive areas, just shows how aware he was that the government was closing in on him.

SIMON: Let me - when you talk about the mental history that was about to come spilling out - let me raise this question respectfully, in the sense that people suffer mental illnesses and need support, and it can happen to all of us. But it will raise questions as to why somebody with this portfolio, if you please, of mental problems was doing work in a high-security operation?

SHAPIRO: That's right. One week ago, his therapist took out a restraining order on him. And in the restraining order she wrote his psychiatrist said - called him homicidal, sociopathic, with clear intentions. She says, FBI is involved, he will be charged with five capital murders. As I said, dating back to his graduate days, a history of homicidal threats, actions, plans. And so the question is how someone with that history could have gotten through the security clearance process to be able to handle deadly strains of anthrax on a daily basis.

SIMON: Of course, another question will be raised, and it's impossible to determine, I guess, right now, is if his suicide was occasioned by fear, remorse, grief, or just the pressure of events?


SHAPIRO: Exactly. His colleague - my colleague, rather, David Kestenbaum, has been talking with many of his colleagues in the last day or so. And those people tell David that they can't imagine Dr. Ivins doing this - the anthrax attacks, that is. We know that Dr. Ivins was hospitalized and treated for depression. And so, as you say, it's not clear whether he overdosed on painkillers and committed suicide because of guilt, remorse, pressure, depression, a combination of all the above. As his attorney described it, he says the relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo led his client to take his life.

SIMON: You were able to find something that Dr. Ivins' son posted on Facebook I'd like you to share with us.

SHAPIRO: That's right. This is his son Andy Ivins who is in his mid-twenties, who on Tuesday evening at 6:47 p.m. posted to his Facebook page, "I will miss you Dad. I love you, and I can't wait to see you in heaven. Rest in peace. It's finally over."

SIMON: Well, NPR's Ari Shapiro, thanks very much for coming in, speaking to us about the latest developments in the suicide of Dr. Bruce Ivins relating to the deadly anthrax attacks investigation from 2001. Ari, thanks for being with us.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.