- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

An anthrax-contamination hoax yesterday forced the evacuation of Cardozo High School and exposed weaknesses in the District's preparedness for biological attacks.
The FBI, the Metropolitan Police Department and units from the D.C. fire department were dispatched to the Northwest high school after an anonymous call to police at 9:23 a.m. reported that anthrax spores had been placed in the school's ventilation system.
About 700 Cardozo students were evacuated without being decontaminated and taken to nearby Garnet-Patterson Middle School, while hazardous-materials teams and FBI agents searched the building.
"After checking the building, our [hazardous materials] folks determined it was a hoax," said Chris Murray, spokesman for the FBI's Washington field office.
Students and teachers could be seen marching up 10th Street back to Cardozo at about 1:30 p.m. School will be open today, and no reports of illnesses have been reported among Cardozo students.
It remains unclear why the Cardozo students were taken to Garnet-Patterson before officials determined whether anthrax spores were present at the high school.
Fire department communications director Lisa Bass said the Cardozo students were kept in two rooms at Garnet-Patterson to avoid cross-contamination with other students.
Romeo Garcia, executive director for facilities management for the D.C. public schools, said the decision to evacuate was made jointly by Cardozo's principal and representatives of the city's fire and police departments. He said it was part of the school's emergency-response plan, which has been updated since the recent outbreak of anthrax contamination.
While law enforcement authorities were busy investigating the hoax yesterday, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told a news conference that the FBI is making "important" progress in tracking the culprit behind the anthrax attacks.
Four anthrax-laced letters sent to the New York Post, NBC News in New York and Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont have been probed by the FBI since early last month.
Mr. Ashcroft said the FBI believes all four letters came from one person and that investigators have developed a profile of the letter sender.
"It's an individual accustomed to working with toxic and dangerous chemistry," Mr. Ashcroft said. "It's an individual who has certain technical skills and capacities, and a variety of other things. And the FBI is following leads, in that respect, which we believe are constructive."
Mr. Ashcroft said there will "come a time when it will be appropriate for us to make announcements regarding prosecutions."
Meanwhile, investigators in Connecticut yesterday reached a "dead end" in the case of an elderly widow who died of inhalation anthrax last week.
Ottilie Lundgren, 94, a retired legal secretary, on Wednesday became the fifth U.S. fatality of inhalation anthrax, the most deadly form of the disease.
Neal Lustig, the top health official for the Pomperaug health district, which includes Oxford, Conn. the town where Mrs. Lundgren lived said he has "no idea" how Mrs. Lundgren came into contact with the anthrax spores that killed her.
The mystery deepened during the weekend, when more than 700 tests for anthrax exposure in post offices, restaurants and Mrs. Lundgren's home all came back negative, Dr. Lustig said in an interview.
Soil samples taken from Mrs. Lundgren's yard also showed no trace of the lethal bacteria, further quashing a theory that she was infected naturally rather than by bioterrorism.
The FBI, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials are working overtime to solve the mystery, Mr. Lustig said. "This investigation is intense," he said. "We are leaving no stone unturned."
Investigators are not giving up, according to William Garish, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Health.
"The test results are negative, but we're continuing to aggressively investigate this," Mr. Garish said. "We've not run out of options. There are a number of angles we're exploring."
Mrs. Lundgren rarely left home by herself a fact that may help investigators track everyone she had contact with in the weeks leading up to her death.
Authorities compare Mrs. Lundgren's case to that of Kathy T. Nguyen, a New York hospital worker who died of inhalation anthrax last month.
Three other persons who have died from the disease since Oct. 4 had direct contact with tainted mail at their workplaces. Six persons who contracted inhalation anthrax have recovered.
Mary Shaffrey contributed to this report.


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