- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

Virginia authorities yesterday intercepted an envelope containing a primitive fire-starting device before it reached the desk of Gov. Mark Warner.

The letter did not ignite, and no one was hurt.

Since Thursday, 17 such letters have been found addressed to governors in state capitals nationwide.

“It’s a sad reminder that we live in a dangerous world,” said Mr. Warner, a Democrat, who was attending the Southern Governors’ Association conference in Richmond yesterday.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat, was with Mr. Warner in Richmond. A similar letter addressed to his office also was intercepted yesterday.

Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Mr. Warner, said the governor was never in any danger. She said a staffer noticed the letter at about 9:30 a.m. because of its similarities to the letters received at other state capitals last week. Some of those letters contained a blank sheet of paper and a match poised to strike when the paper was removed.

In three cases, the match inside the envelope flared when the letter was opened, but there have been no reported injuries.

Special Agent Lawrence Barry, a spokesman for the FBI field office in Richmond, said the letter was in the FBI’s possession yesterday. He would not say whether the envelope had been opened or whether there was a note inside, but he described it as “consistent with the other letters that have been sent or received.”

Authorities said each letter bore a rubber stamp indicating the return address was the maximum-security Ely State Prison in Nevada.

Special Agent Todd Palmer, a spokesman for the Las Vegas field office, which is heading the investigation, said he could not comment on the sophistication of the mechanism used. He said the letters have not been analyzed and those that were recognized by mailroom employees before they were opened remain sealed.

Mr. Palmer said authorities have no suspects and are not sure whether the letters originated from the state prison.

Glen Whorton, assistant director for the Nevada Department of Corrections, told the Associated Press last week that authorities were interviewing inmates at the prison.

The letters listed one or the other of two Ely inmates as the sender, but authorities are not sure whether either prisoner was involved.

“We’re not assuming the names on the envelopes are simply the end of the matter,” he said. “Investigators are not just talking to the two inmates.”

Mr. Palmer also said it is uncertain whether more letters are en route.

“We’d be guessing if we tried to figure that out,” he said.

Henry Falwell, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said none of the letters had been discovered within the governor’s mail, but that there are precautions in place to deal with any type of threat transmitted by mail.

“As a precaution, for the last six months we have had all mail addressed to the governor opened in a separate building,” he said.

Similar envelopes addressed to governors began arriving last Thursday in Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Texas, Vermont, Washington state and Wyoming.

Another letter was sent to the director of the Nevada Department of Corrections.

Six of the governors are Democrats and 11 are Republicans.

In Montana, the envelope prompted the evacuation of part of the state Capitol in Helena, and a bomb squad was summoned to handle the envelope in Utah.

Wyoming’s state mail-processing center located outside the Capitol grounds in Cheyenne was evacuated while a specially designed robot removed a suspicious letter on Friday.

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